May 22 2015

As has been mentioned here in the past, we are in the process of renaming several of the Kennedy School guestrooms to celebrate the people who attended, worked and taught at the school. One of those is Steve Hutton, the Kennedy School’s Scottish janitor – today’s Boiler Room Bar was his domain. He made lasting, lifelong impressions on generations of kids who attended Kennedy.

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He was “Scotty” to most kids at Kennedy, a nod to his Scottish roots. Steve Hutton was his real name and he was school custodian from 1926 to ’42. More accurately, though, he was a coach, advocate, and a constantly upbeat and caring fixture at the school through the dark years of the Great Depression. Married to wife Meg, but with no children of their own, Steve forged a genuine connection with the students and went out of his way to be kind and helpful.

He boosted school moral by taking over the lowly Kennedy soccer team and turning it into the city champ. He also found a way to give kids jobs as janitorial assistants, allowing them to bring a few coins home to their families. He gave memorable bagpipe performances, taught kids the Highland Fling, and even loaned out his ceremonial kilt, tie, and hat for use in the school talent show.

On a daily basis, kids congregated in the boiler room, where the custodian’s office was located, crowding onto benches to hear Steve recite tall tales and bits of ancient Scottish lore.

The Kennedy custodian’s support even helped one kid fulfill his dream of playing in the Big Leagues. Don Johnson, who went on to play seven years in the Majors, recalled that the Scotsman, who didn’t know a thing about baseball, worked with him on his pitching and came to his games to root him on, likely because Don’s parents weren’t coming to see their son play.

The image here dates to 1927, a year after Hutton accepted his job at Kennedy. The photo was taken just after the end of the school year, on June 12, at the Woodmen of the World Drill Team Picnic. Note the pint of beer in his hand, undoubtedly well-deserved after completing his first year at Kennedy and with the whole summer stretching out before him.

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P.S. Some have wondered whether or not Hutton could have been the inspiration for “The Simpsons” character Groundskeeper Willie, the angry Scottish bagpiping  janitor at Springfield Elementary. The answer is no. Careful research (i.e., Wikipedia) reveals that Portland’s own Matt Groening based this character partially on Angus Crock, a kilt-wearing chef from the sketch comedy show “Second City Television.”

 

 

 

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