By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published March 21, 2022
DECATUR—For Yemane Ghidey, his work as school facilities manager at the St. Thomas More School campus and the energetic students give him “my heaven on earth.”
Ghidey, 73, watches over the hundreds of students as any grandfather would, spoiling them when school administrators would like them to step up responsibility, like wiping down the cafeteria tables.
The nearly 400 students, faculty and staff at the Decatur archdiocesan school recently celebrated him with “Mr. Yemane Day.” To recognize Ghidey, the students dressed in the colors of his native East African country, Eritrea, wearing blue, yellow and green. They put on rubber wristbands saying, “Service with a Smile” for the day in honor of Mr. Yemane’s outgoing personality. Up on stage, he waved to the students as they paraded past him cheering his name and exchanged high fives.
School leaders admire him and appreciate what he brings to the community.
“All the students love him. He has a genuine big heart,” said Kim Kissell, office administrator.
The youngest son of a farmer, Ghidey lived in Ethiopia and Eritrea where he worked as a machine shop operator for the national railroads.
On a whim, his wife, Almaz Abrha, applied for a visa to come to the United States. Their names were selected to everyone’s surprise. The visa allowed them to settle in the United States. He and his wife left their three grown children and arrived in Clarkston in 2006. His two girls and boy have since come to the United States. They live in Stone Mountain and attend St. Gabriel Ethiopian Orthodox Church in Clarkston.
Ghidey is marking his 10th year on school staff, after a few years working at the DeKalb Farmers Market.
With voice expressing unbelief, Ghidey called it a miracle how his life has turned out, coming to the United States and finding this beloved job at the school.
“It is from God. It is a miracle for me to come here, to be here,” he said.
He arrives at school around 8:30 a.m. and leaves at 5 p.m. He is responsible for the facilities across the campus, including the lunch room and the classrooms.
The school community stunned him into silence and tears by surprising him with the employee of the year recognition. He was looking into a fake work order on the gym stage when the curtains opened to reveal the student body applauding him.
Staff remembered the January event as special for the school. It was the first time the whole community gathered as one in the gymnasium.
“Thank you for what you do for me. I love you,” he said to them.
As COVID safety measures have been rolled back, Ghidey said he can get back to the best part of the day, interacting with students. As a precaution against the virus, students had been eating in their classroom so he didn’t see them much, but now they have returned to playing in the courtyard and eating in the cafeteria.
While he interacts with everyone, he also goes out of his way to speak with the youngsters who are native to his home country and Ethiopia.
“I enjoy it very much. They keep me young,” he said. “This place makes me happy.”
To view the video of the Mr. Yemane Day surprise recognition as employee of the year, go to www.facebook.com/stmdecaturga.