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Valero, the heart and soul of Ledyard schools, will never be forgotten

Published May 03. 2016 5:59PM |Updated May 04. 2016 12:20PM
By Mike DiMauro Day staff writer
m.dimauro@theday.com BCgenius

Ledyard – The word “custodian” just has neither the chops nor the tentacles to define who they are and what they meant to Ledyard High School. Tony Valero and Vinny Marceau. Vinny and Tony. Tony and Vinny. The eyes and ears of the place. A daily floor show. The whatever-you-need-whenever-you-need it guys, whether a hose, wrench, joke or cup of coffee.

And it was with overwhelming sadness that I learned of Tony Valero’s recent death.

He was 58.

Ledyard schools have lost a fan, a champion for the teachers and the kids and a loyal soul.

“Tony could do it all,” Ledyard High athletic director and football coach Jim Buonocore said. “Create, fix, or manipulate any facility needs. On top of it all, Tony was a great cook. Due to my long hours here, he often invited me to dinner with his crew on their break time and he could grill a great steak. Cooked it just the way I like it. On Saturdays in the winter when I found myself at work through a morning wrestling event through a night basketball event, Tony would start the day with the best egg and bacon sandwich you could imagine.

“A tremendous human being. I can speak for many when I say Tony Valero will be greatly missed. I will never forget him.”

Neither will we here at The Day. Tony and Vinny have been instrumental in the success of “GameDay,” our foray into livestreaming high school events. Our inaugural game, New London at Ledyard football in Nov. 2013, wouldn’t have happened without them. Let’s just say they know where the bodies are buried on that campus, helping us with the million details we never saw coming. Then they built us a basketball broadcast table in the bleachers of Standish Gym, alleviating a major space issue for us.

Mostly, though, I’ll miss Tony because he knew to have the coffee ready at halftime of football games. It tends to get colder than Minsk at Bill Mignault Field in November. Every halftime, there was Tony. “I got coffee. You want coffee?”

Tony and Vinny.

Vinny and Tony.

“When I was teaching English, Tony was the custodian assigned to the hallway where my classroom was located. There is always a little friendly competition between teachers each fall around custodian assignments,” Ledyard principal Amanda Fagan said. “Tony was like a No. 1 draft pick. He did all the little things well, but he also noticed and attended to things we barely noticed ourselves.

“A wobbly podium would have its casters fixed and days later you’d realize you weren’t rocking side to side if you rested your elbows on it as you spoke. A decrepit student desk would one night disappear, replaced by one with a little more substance and shine, and you’d know Tony had tapped into his secret supply closet. I had a row of four tables across the back of my classroom to hold the journalism computers when I taught. They were about three inches too wide to actually fit, so one was at an odd angle, taking up space. One morning, I came in, and all four tables were lined up perfectly across the back. I realized that Tony had cut little wood blocks and had elevated the two outside tables so that they overlapped with the two inside tables, allowing all of them to fit in a row. I never asked him to do that. He just noticed a problem and fixed it, and it made my classroom better for my students.”

In the old days, football officials would huddle at halftime in the teachers’ lounge. It’s hard to imagine laughing that hard in only 10 minutes. Jim Butler would start busting the stones of his colleagues and Tony and Vinny would join right in.

That’s after they offered everybody food, soda, coffee. You were always their guest in their school.

“Tony was also a talker. He had this slow, pointed way of saying my name to kick off a conversation,” Fagan said.

“‘Uh.maaaaan.da. How are yoooo?’ He loved to stop and chat for bit, leaning on his mop handle or half sitting on a student desk as I graded papers or later, when I became principal, he would sometimes stop in my office door when he came on shift in the afternoon. When he was heated about something, he would always lead with, ‘Lemme tell you something.’

Tony wore hilarious t-shirts all summer during the big building overhauls (‘Silence is golden, but duct tape is silver.’). He both terrified and took care of our summer hires, the teenagers back to help after a first year away at college. He taught them a thing or two about how to be men.”

Tony was eventually transferred to Gallup Hill School, where the kids took to calling him “Mr. Tony.” But he’ll always be a Ledyard High guy.

Happily, Vinny Marceau still roams the halls of the high school. All he has left are memories of his old friend. Vinny joins the rest of us when we say we’ll spend the rest of our lives missing Tony Valero. He made his places better places. RIP.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.

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