DANVERS — Retired custodian Bob Palardy came back to the Great Oak School where he worked for 22 years to be greeted with a mess — piles of dirt, a hole in the front lawn and a cherry tree sticking out of it.
Fortunately for Palardy, a 67-year-old Danvers native, this was a tree planting ceremony in his honor, not another task to do.
Friday, the town held its 25th Arbor Day celebration at the school on Pickering Street in a program put on by the Forestry Division and the Danvers Garden Club, which paid for the Kwanzan cherry tree in Palardy's honor. Selectmen had proclaimed Friday Arbor Day in Danvers, and the Forestry Division has plans to distribute 330 Eastern Rosebud seedlings to Danvers schoolchildren.
Tree Foreman Dave Ambrose got the idea to plant a tree for Palardy, who retired on Jan. 4, 2008. Palardy worked as a custodian in the schools for 34 years.
"He showed a lot of respect to the kids, and the kids showed it back to him," Ambrose said.
With a light sprinkle of rain in the air, approximately 360 students in kindergarten through fifth grade lined the square patch of grass at the front of the school.
"You guys are part of history because today we are going to dedicate this tree to our former custodian and my good friend Bob Palardy," said Principal Matthew Fusco to students cheering. "He called me skipper and I called him cap, and he called me other names but we'll keep that between us," Fusco joked.
Second-grader Damien Cordeiro, who was tapped to shovel some dirt, called Palardy, "a really good guy," while Alex Schwartz called Palardy "awesome" after the fourth-grade girl gave him a hug.
Palardy had worked in a number of Danvers schools over the years, but he enjoyed working with elementary students best.
"There's a difference between kids who are 13, 14, 15 and 5 and 10. These kids here, there's nothing phony about them," Palardy said.
Staff Writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.