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Calling Mercy High School ‘home’ has double meaning for custodian

For 45 years, custodian Milton "Pete" Peterson has called Mercy High School in Omaha his second home.

But for seven of those years, it was his home – that’s where he lived.

Throughout most of the 1990s, Peterson lived with his wife and two children in a one-bedroom apartment near the boiler room in the basement of the all-girls school.

Now 67 and living in an apartment near the school, Peterson said his home in the school no longer exists – it’s part of the maintenance shop – but the memories do.

Peterson, who joined the staff in 1970 as a third-grade engineer working on the boilers and eventually became a custodian, said in 1990 his boss asked if he would be interested in living at the school. It was considered part of his wages.

Living at the school had its benefits, he said. Their daughter, Laura, found it easy to get to school on time – she attended Mercy, graduating in 1997, the same year the Petersons moved out of the school. And their son, Kris, discovered the halls were good places to ride a tricycle.

During the wintertime, he faced no hassles getting to work, such as shoveling snow or driving in poor weather.

"And the heating bills were great – there were none," he said.

But living at his workplace could be challenging, he said. The Sisters of Mercy who ran the school and lived in the now-closed convent on campus could ask for his assistance at all hours.

"It felt like you were on call 24/7," Peterson said. "But it really was an amazing arrangement, and that inconvenience was minimal."

Peterson, a Lutheran, said he enjoys working at Mercy because of its sense of community. People work hard and are committed to excellence, he said.

"Everyone works to make sure the students are successful," he said. "The atmosphere is always positive and the girls have a real spirit."

Sister of Mercy Delores Hannon, president of the school, praised Peterson’s work ethic and positive attitude and said he has "a smile that lights up any room."

"He often talks about how grateful he is for his many years at Mercy and we often comment what his commitment means to the school," she said. "Day or night he is available when we need him. We are blessed to have him as part of the Mercy family."

Peterson said the feeling is mutual.

"I like my job. I like the mission of the school. I feel appreciated for the work I do. I like the atmosphere and I have job security," said Peterson, who has no plans to retire anytime soon. "I have a very strong work ethic. As long as I am healthy and believe I can do a good job for Mercy, I will continue to work here."

 

Photo: Milton Peterson prepares to clean the hallway floor Aug. 23 at Mercy High School in Omaha.
Lisa Maxson/For the Catholic Voice

 

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