After spending some time working in a chicken house, babysitting and cleaning houses, Penny Shelton worked in a factory for five years.

She then briefly took time off before taking her mother’s place as a “cleaning lady” at Browns-town Elementary School.

Shelton said her mother was influential in her landing the position.

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“She went back to Cummins, and she helped me get on here. She thought I needed a job, and she said, ‘Now, don’t let me down,’” Shelton said.

She certainly didn’t let her mother down, as she recently retired after spending 33 years cleaning classrooms, hallways and restrooms at the school.

Shelton said she has come a long way since her first job of working in the chicken house at Starr’s Egg House in her hometown of Sparksville. That’s when she was 16.

“I was scared to death of those chickens,” she said, smiling.

She then did babysitting and cleaned houses before taking a job at Spartan Industries in Brownstown.

When she landed the custodian job at the elementary school, she worked from 3 to 11 p.m. At the start, she was one of three on the custodial staff, and each of them had a certain part of the building to clean.

“When I started, we had some really good-smelling soap. It was mint, and it smelled like the courthouse,” she said. “It smelled wonderful.”

Once the kindergarten and first-grade wing were added onto the building, the custodial staff bumped up to five people.

At one point, they had separate duties, such as cleaning the bathrooms, desks, countertops, cabinets and chalkboards, taking out the trash and mopping and vacuuming the floors.

But over time, all of the staff took on those tasks.

“Used to, the janitors did the trash and bathrooms and hallways. Then that all got changed, and everybody does everything,” Shelton said. “It hasn’t been bad, though. It’s all about cleaning and working together. That’s what we do.”

While the job suited her because she always liked cleaning, Shelton said the best part about working at the elementary school was the people.

“I like people, and I love the kids,” she said. “I just like to make the little kids smile and talk to them. It’s all about kids. You can see their parents in them. They are just like the parents.”

She also developed a good working relationship with the teachers.

“I love my teachers, every one of them,” she said. “We’ve got some great teachers in this building.”

The only downside she experienced was exposure to the chemicals in the industrial-strength cleaners and bleach they used. Those have caused allergy problems and nearly made Shelton lose her voice.

Family members told her it may be time to retire.

“Last month, I was using bleach, and everything I put in my mouth, it burnt my tongue and my lips,” she said. “I quit using the bleach, and I was told to use the pH 7. I did that, and this (losing her voice) is what I’ve got.”

Even though she has retired from the school, Shelton is still going to clean once a week at the town hall and town park, and she has a couple of houses lined up to clean.

She also will keep cleaning her own house.

“My father-in-law, he always called me Susie, I always cleaned my house up every single day, and he said, ‘Susie, you’re going to die with that broom and mop in your hand,’ and I was like, ‘I hope not,’” she said, smiling. “I just felt like I had to have my house clean.”

She also plans to have more time to take care of her yard and garden and crochet.

“Sometimes, I piece quilts, and I’ve got a couple of quilts that my mom embroidered, and I want to take them and quilt them,” she said. “That’s my goal.”

Shelton also plans to spend more time with her family, including husband, two children and three grandchildren.

“I will visit with my kids because they are on day shift, and I was on night shift, and you don’t see them until the weekend, sometimes not even that,” she said.

Shelton said she leaves Brownstown Elementary School with positive thoughts.

“It was a good place to work,” she said.

Shelton file

Name: Penny Shelton

Age: 61

Hometown: Sparksville

Residence: Brownstown

Education: General Education Diploma (1995)

Occupation: Recently retired after 33 years as a custodian at Brownstown Elementary School

Family: Husband, Dale Shelton; children, Lora (Jeff) Sitterding and Heidi (Wayne Caffee) Ream; grandchildren, Johnny Sitterding, Jeremy Sitterding and Melody Ream

Author photo
Zach Spicer is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. He can be reached at or 812-523-7080.