SES custodian makes a difference in student lives after being mentored by former principal

SES custodian makes a difference in student lives after being mentored by former principal

As he walks through the hallways at Scottsburg Elementary School, custodian Rick Zollman takes the time to give a smile, give a high-five, or give an answer to the children he passes. In the cafeteria, Zollman shows the students a magic trick where he can remove his thumb and put it back on his hand. The students are mesmerized by his magic trick and want to know how he did it.

“In this day and age, many students do not get much attention at home. I give them a smile or a wave. It makes their day,” Zollman said.

Zollman’s interest into the well-being of the students at SES did not start when he began working there 31 years ago. It began when he was growing up in Scott County.

“I’m about as Scottsburg as you can get,” Zollman said. “I’ve lived here all my life. My parents instilled in us to help others. We’ve always got involved. We took pride in our city.”

As a student at SES more than half of a century ago, Zollman was the one being mentored, cared for, and encouraged by his principal and Little League coach, Bud Carter.

“He was a wonderful coach. He just taught you about life. He was a big influence on me,” Zollman said.

As an elementary school student, Carter and Zollman’s father, Ray, coached his Little League team. Zollman remembers riding his bicycle to his friends’ houses, collecting cans for recycling in order to take that money to buy a new baseball that he and his friends lost, and always going to every game after school or on the weekends.

“It was a wonderful town to grow up in,” Zollman said. “A lot of my fondest memories are school memories. I loved to go to school. Everyone would go to the game.”

As Zollman moved on through to middle and high school, Carter continued to have an impact on Zollman’s life.

“He asked me to be his assistant coach,” Zollman said. “I’d ride my bicycle. I didn’t have a license.”

The life lessons and the way Carter worked with and treated the students on and off the field made a lasting impression on Zollman.

“Mr. Carter was the same way [as I am today]. He was here so long. When a kid’s shoes were falling apart and they could not afford to buy new ones, he would buy them a pair of shoes,” Zollman said.

After Zollman graduated high school and needed a job a couple of years later, he received a phone call from his old coach and principal.

“Mr. Carter hired me,” Zollman said.

Zollman started working the night shift as a custodian at SES before moving to the day shift two years later.

“On the night shift, I saw very little of the kids. I am able to see them at lunch time, when I go into classrooms and when I walk down the hallways,” Zollman said. “I love working with the kids. I’m 60 years old. It keeps you young.”

While Zollman was working at SES, he continued to coach Little League teams for 20 years. Now, he takes tickets at Scott County School District 2 sporting events and goes to the Little League, basketball and other sporting events of the students he sees and interacts with every day.

“I’ll go to their ball game. The kids ask me to go their games,” Zollman said. “There’s not many evenings I’m not selling tickets. I sell tickets with my brother. He’s three years older than me. I needed help. It turned into him helping.”

In addition to Zollman’s passion for sports and being part of his community, he collects Hot Wheels, a toy that defines many people’s childhoods.

“Everyone needs a hobby. I am a baseball nut. I used to collect baseball cards. However, when the players went on strike, it kind of soured me. That’s when I started collecting Hot Wheels,” Zollman said. “I started collecting 60s, early 70s cards. I bought a ‘69 Camaro because my best friend used to drive one. It went on from there. It’s one of the cheapest hobbies I’ve ever had.”

The hobby turned into a display case at SES, so the students could look at them during the spring months.

“I dust them off, and I go to flea markets to find new ones,” Zollman said.

The Hot Wheels collection is another way for students to interact with Zollman.

“I am in a position where I can help a kid because I’m not their teacher or duty aide. They ask me about homework because they are scared to talk to their teacher. I take them to someone who can give them a start with their homework and tell them that’s OK to ask their teacher. I can take them to the counselor when they have problems,” Zollman said.

After more than three decades at SES and more than half of a century at SCSD2, Zollman often runs into former students he has helped along the way or former students who remember his smile, magic trick or high-fives.

“There’s hardly a day that goes by that I don’t run into a kid that asks me how I am doing,” Zollman said.

“I was at Qdoba, and one of the workers said, ‘I want to wait on this guy.’ It was one of the kids who went to Scottsburg and remembered me. At Jay C, I recognized the girl at the cash register. She asked if I could take my finger off,” Zollman said.

Zollman’s joy and enthusiasm for helping his community and his school are what makes the difference in the lives of countless children who have attended SES and SCSD2 over the years. At Scott County School District 2, Zollman’s story is our story. Your story matters. You matter.