Crowd of St. Brigid Catholic Church

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If you walk along Larkin Street near Ashman Street on a weekday – roughly between May and November – you will likely see three or four guys sitting at the top of a concrete staircase.

Here are the gentlemen of the maintenance department of St. Brigid Catholic School.

Sometimes I see them on their lunch break doing what they do best: greeting people who pass by.

They are polite and friendly but they attract you with their equally humorous side. These people kind of remind me of Statler and Waldorf of the Muppets who sit on the balcony and share comments on everything – only there are four of them instead of two.

If I have time to stop, while we are chatting, they will soon find out how I am and I will inquire about them as well. And eventually, one of them could come up with a joke or tease, depending on the situation. (Like the time I locked my keys in the car.)

I don’t know exactly how I met this group. Maybe it was while I was making an order of coffee for them at Espresso Milano. Or I could have been someone they waved to as I started working.

But that’s only part of how they live with neighbors… you might not remember how you first met them, but you’ll end up saying hello, chatting, and probably sharing a laugh. And then you will leave with a smile.

One of the members of this group is Gary Hollingshead from Midland. He is a maintenance supervisor and has worked at St. Brigid for 30 years.

“I have been coming to Milan since it opened,” he said. “I actually had to wait two years. I had to make coffee on my own the whole time – it was terrible. “

He and his wife, Susie Hollingshead, a teacher at the school, have been married for 18 years. There is an interesting story behind how they met.

“She applied to the school, but they didn’t need a teacher at the time,” he said. “Then a few days later the administrator said the school needed a kindergarten teacher. They had thrown the app away, so I went to look for its number in a trash can and found it in a garbage bag. She got hired and we got married two years later.

While he enjoys waving to the public on the stairs, his favorite part of his job at St. Brigid is standing outside in the morning and greeting students as they arrive.

Another member of the group, Ron Torka of Sanford, has worked in the maintenance of the school for 19 years.

Like the others, he says he enjoys working with students and their families. He also enjoys camaraderie with the staff.

Torka pointed out that his group at the top of the stairs will talk to anyone.

“We heckle a few people if they deserve it,” he said. “Even the ticket man.”

He refers to Tim Stockton who took over as a parking attendant after Barb Ader’s retirement.

Andrew Reed from Midland, who started working at the school in 2011, has an interesting connection to Ader.

“Barb is my wife’s aunt,” he said. “She would come and heckle us!” She said, “What are you doing sitting on the steps?” You do nothing.

Reed’s wife, Kyla Reed, works at Huntington Bank.

When Andrew first started coming to Milan, he either got a mudslide or what he sometimes calls a crooked rabbit – a cross between the white rabbit and the beige rabbit.

Andrew enjoys being part of the maintenance crew at St. Brigid. And he also likes to chat with people.

“Even though we don’t know their name, we are starting to wave at them,” he said.

Joe Sira, who graduated from Bullock Creek High School in 2018, has worked in the maintenance department for over two years. He attended Saginaw Valley State University where he studied Marketing.

He also likes his colleagues as well as people who stop.

“It’s great to be on the porch and see you guys in the afternoon,” Sira said.

He also admires their gift of chatter.

“I just love the way they can talk to anyone and everyone,” he said.

It looks like it was yesterday when the guys first introduced him as the newest addition to their crew. They were joking then about teaching him porch manners. I haven’t heard him heckle anyone yet, but I’m sure it’s going on.

Sira’s girlfriend Lexi Moulton is a 2019 Bullock Creek graduate studying social work at SVSU. Sira and Moulton met during his senior year track and field season. Moulton sometimes stops to visit him and the others while they are having lunch on the stairs.

This group of gentlemen all agree that they know a lot of people. They mentioned the Mackinac Center, city workers, and alumni. But there are many others in the city center and elsewhere.

And although they often share light conversations, they also remember the details. They mentioned that they spoke with Bret Cousineau about his recent car problem.

And they remembered that I went to Florida for a memorial service and to see a relative. It’s pretty cool.

That’s how I would describe the guys at the top of the stairs outside of St. Brigid Catholic School … pretty cool.

Niky House, barista at Espresso Milano in Midland and local freelance writer, writes this Coffee Shop Talk column series for the Midland Daily News.


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