Kittok calls it a career, LaBeau joins district

Posted on: Jul 21, 2017

Kittok calls it a career, LaBeau joins district

The Delano school district is losing a vital long-time employee this summer, but has also been fortunate to find a replacement with comparable experience.

Marty Kittok, 61, is retiring at the end of July after 31-plus years, including the past two decades as the building and grounds head custodian. He has seen the district from all angles, having graduated from Delano High School in 1974.

Stepping in to replace him as the new building and grounds coordinator is Matt LaBeau, 54, who also has 30 years of experience running the maintenance and custodial side of school operations in Michigan and Wyoming.

“I trust that I’m leaving the school in good hands with Matt taking over,” said Kittok, who has helped LaBeau transition into Delano during the month of July. “I have a great deal of confidence in some of the decisions that he has already made.”

For his part, LaBeau said that Kittok has been extremely helpful, and that his initial impressions of the district have been favorable.

“I’m excited to be here,” he said, adding that the current building project has kept him busy from the time he arrived on July 3. “I jumped into the deep end, but I knew what I was getting into. To see a district this size doing a project this large is phenomenal.”

Kittok’s career

Following his graduation from Delano, Kittok spent several years as a dairy farmer near Morris. He then returned to town and spent 10 years working at the Delano elevator feed mill as a master feed mixer before the head custodian at the school asked if Kittok would be interested in working as a substitute custodian on night shifts.

Kittok decided to try it, and when a day position opened a short time later that involved taking care of the fields and grounds he decided to move into that position and shift careers. Around 1995 he was promoted to the head custodian role.

“I wanted to move to a job I could retire from, and voila, it happened,” said Kittok with a laugh. “I enjoyed all 31-plus years – not every aspect of it, of course, but I feel that it has made me a better person in all ways.”

The position required Kittok to hone his management, organizational and interpersonal skills, and put his problem-solving abilities to the test. He said those ongoing challenges, and the thrill of seeing a project through from start to finish, was what kept him enthusiastic about his work.

“I always thirst for knowledge about how things work and how to repair them,” he said. “Every day is a learning experience.”

Over time, that inquisitive nature yielded a thorough familiarity with the school facilities, down to just about every valve and pump.

“A lot is getting replaced now, so I feel it is an opportune time for me to retire because a lot of the equipment will be under warranty. If something isn’t working the way it should, Matt will have someone to call and it should be free of charge,” Kittok said.

Opportune or not, Kittok said that separating from the district is difficult, particularly with a major building effort underway that he won’t get to see through to completion.

“I’m leaving right in the middle of all the fun,” he said. “I love my job, and it’s hard to leave something you love. It’s kind of like getting a divorce. It’s still there, but it won’t be part of my life. Maybe if I’m lucky Matt will call me up and ask me a question once in a while.”

Delano Superintendent Matt Schoen said the sense of loss is mutual.

“Marty has been an invaluable resource and friend to the school district for so many years. We will miss him terribly and wish him all the best as a successful farmer in his retirement,” he said.

In addition to his work at the school, Kittok has continued to farm since 1976 and plans to focus on his “bad habit” in retirement. He has about 1,000 acres of corn, soybeans and hay, and also runs a side business helping other farmers choose their crops for roughly another 1,000 acres worth of land.

An additional retirement plan is to build a new home on his farm near Winsted.

“I just want to thank the district for the opportunity to give them 31 years of service, and thank all the people who have influenced me over the years and helped me grow as a person,” said Kittok.

LaBeau steps in

The bulk of LaBeau’s career, 25 years, was spent at Michigan’s Standish-Sterling Community School District near Saginaw Bay on Lake Huron. He began working there as a substitute custodian after four years as an auto mechanic, and within another four years rose to become the district’s maintenance supervisor.

He then retired and moved west to be closer to his children, settling in the south-central Wyoming city of Rawlins, where he headed up the school custodial staff for five years. When that position closed, LaBeau saw that Delano was seeking someone with his qualifications.

“This is a good fit. I don’t like big cities at all,” said LaBeau. “Coming here through St. Paul and Minneapolis with five lanes in both directions, I thought, ‘If this school district is anywhere close to what this is, I’m not stopping. I’ll just keep on driving.’ I love rural life. This is perfect.”

While he is stepping in during a major construction project, LaBeau is familiar with the process.

“When we’re done with this I will have been part of planning and managing about $200 million worth of projects at school districts,” he said.

In his past positions LaBeau has also dealt with a number of extreme situations, including multiple floods, as well as a fire that occurred on a Saturday afternoon. He and his staff worked through the weekend to tear out the ceiling and drywall that were damaged by the smoke, and had the school ready for business as usual – minus the one classroom where the actual fire occurred – by the following Monday.

Schoen said LaBeau’s experience makes him a good fit for Delano during a time of major transition.

“We’re very excited to have Matt be part of our team as the new building and grounds coordinator,” Schoen said. “Matt comes to us with a wealth of experience working in school districts, especially ones that have been a part of building projects.”

Like Kittok, LaBeau said the satisfaction of handling a wide variety of issues and making sure the facilities themselves do not become a distraction to the learning process is what he enjoys most about the work.

“Just being able to deal with problems that affect so many kids gives you a sense of accomplishment,” he said.

Experiences elsewhere have given LaBeau a broad perspective, and he is happy in Delano so far.

“Marty has been fantastic in helping me transition, and everybody in this town has been nice and helpful,” he said. “It’s been a joy to work here. I’ve told my wife, ‘I love my job so far. Everything is going great.’”