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Retiring after keeping schools green for 35 years

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Retiring after keeping schools green for 35 years

Stephen Marleau is retiring after 35 years keeping grounds in shape for the Manteca Unified School District.

JAMES BURNS/The Bulletin/

POSTED September 11, 2013 10:20 p.m.

WESTON RANCH – Manteca High alum Stephen Marleau proudly boasts that he holds the school record for most yards.

“… On a mower,” Marleau says with a chuckle.

Boy, if those tires could talk.

The 55-year-old Marleau has been a groundskeeper with the Manteca Unified School District for 35 years, maintaining its athletic fields, outdoor plumbing and general upkeep as part of the custodial staff.

He’s spent the last eight years at Weston Ranch High, working the last two for head custodian Elbert Bartlett.

The job is difficult and hard on the body, Marleau says – if you view it as work.

“You spend a lot of time on your knees fixing sprinklers and main lines,” he said.

For nearly four decades, Marleau has tried to find the fun in every task. His favorite: Marking a football field or baseball diamond.

“I would work a football game, walk the field and talk to the officials and make sure everything is good,” Marleau said. “I felt that the field was it – that’s where the game is played. You want to make sure the players and coaches have the best possible field to play on.”

Marleau’s last football game was Weston Ranch’s 48-40 loss to Franklin last Friday.

He’ll turn in his keys to Bartlett today.

Marleau is retiring, bringing to a close a career spiced with memories and friendships from each of the district’s campuses.

“ I’ve loved every minute. I’ve worked under some really good people, a lot of athletic directors and principals,” Marleau said. “It’s been one hell of a ride, but it’s time to go. It’s time to get the next generation in here.”

Marleau isn’t sure what the next chapter in his life will hold. He says he’ll try to find a part-time job and maybe return to the school district as a substitute groundskeeper after a mandatory six-month separation period.

After all, it would be a shame to let all that experience and intimate knowledge of each school go to waste.

“When you work for that long, you know where everything is at,” Marleau said. “I’ve got all the information in my head.”

Marleau has worked in some capacity at every high school within the district, beginning his career in 1978 at East Union.

He transferred to Manteca High in 1987 and spent the next 15 years painting Guss Schmiedt Field among other chores. In 2005, he moved to Weston Ranch to help shape the grounds at what was then MUSD’s newest campus.

Along the way, he’s helped open football stadiums at Sierra and Lathrop high schools.

“He’s got a great presence,” said Bartlett, whose known Marleau for 10 years. “He’s always going way over and beyond what’s asked of him.

“He’s the one that if anyone in grounds has a question – about anything – he was the guy.”

Like the district’s landscape, Marleau’s job has changed dramatically over the years.

The grounds shop, he says, has been divided among the high schools. He misses the camaraderie and working relationships he had with other groundskeepers and custodians, as well as the freedom to move about the district.

“You can’t just go to the other high schools to help,” he said. “You can’t trade work.”

Marleau has also transitioned from being the youngest on staff in the 1970s and 1980s to being the department’s elder statesmen.

To that point, Marleau’s son, Matt, is a substitute groundskeeper looking for a full-time position.

“You look at all that you did for 35 years. You look at the people you worked with – some are dead and some are retired,” Marleau said. “I used to be the youngest in the shop.”

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