He may not have won the national title of Janitor of the Year or the $10,000 prize to go with it, but at Seymour Middle School, custodian George Hoffman is still No. 1.

On May 8, teachers and staff surprised Hoffman with a special reception in the school library. Two representatives from Cintas’ Columbus office, Jenna Justus and Casey Paswater, presented Hoffman with a $500 check and a $1,000 prize package of Rubbermaid cleaning products.

School staff pitched in and gave him a cake.

Hoffman, 71, was nominated for Cintas’ Janitor of the Year contest in March by Principal J.B. Royer and longtime teacher Cheryl Fenton and was named one of the 10 top finalists in the country.

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“We are so honored to be here to thank George for his work,” Justus said. “We know a lot of people in the community appreciate him, and we know he is very deserving of being a finalist.”

Paswater said most of the finalists came from bigger cities, so it was impressive to see Hoffman get so many votes in a community the size of Seymour. Nearly 1 million votes were cast in the contest.

After being announced as a finalist, Hoffman did interviews with major television news stations, endearing him to an even wider audience.

Although he would have liked to have been able to buy a car with the top winnings, Hoffman said he might save his $500 prize.

Hoffman said he doesn’t know when or if he will retire because he loves his job so much. He has been a school custodian for 48 years, first at Shields Junior High and at the middle school since it opened in the fall of 1981.

Royer said the whole school, including the students, is proud of Hoffman and appreciates the work he does every day to keep the building clean.

After a month of online voting, the winner, Ted Qualli Jr., a custodian at Newtown Elementary in Philadelphia and a U.S. veteran, was announced May 2. He received more than 379,000 votes or more than 40 percent of the total number of votes cast. He was awarded a $5,000 cash prize and $5,000 worth of cleaning products for his school.

“School janitors are the epitome of an everyday hero, going far beyond their requirements to provide students and staff with a clean and safe learning environment,” said Jillian Bauer, assistant marketing manager with Cintas. “This contest is a way of shining a much-needed spotlight on these hardworking heroes and giving them the recognition they deserve.”

“With nearly 1 million votes, this year’s outpouring of support shows the work of a janitor extends far beyond mopping and sweeping, reaching students, faculty and entire communities,” said Michael Halak, president of Rubbermaid Commercial Products. “We’re excited to award them with this outstanding achievement and look forward to honoring many more janitors as this contest grows.”

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January Rutherford is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. She can be reached at jrutherford@tribtown.com or 812-523-7069.