By Tim Harfmann and Allyson Escobar
JAMAICA ESTATES — In a sense, John Cherry, The Mary Louis Academy’s 87-year-old custodian, is the heart and soul of the school.
Affectionately known as Mr. Cherry, he opens the school’s building every morning at 6 a.m. and soon after that greets students with a friendly, “Good Morning!”
Cherry has been doing that since he started working at the all-girls high school in Jamaica Estates in 1997.
“Our day starts and ends with Mr. Cherry,” said Ann O’Hagan-Cordes, the principal. “The school day could not begin without him — he is a gift to us. Every school and organization should have their own Mr. Cherry welcoming them every day.”
With his signature blue TMLA baseball cap, Cherry, who is 87 years old, walks around campus greeting students and staff.
“I’m happy here; it makes me feel good,” he said. “Everybody here knows me, trusts me. I come here and it’s like I’m at home — it’s a family.”
Helping students to feel safe, comfortable and at home on campus is Cherry’s main priority.
Senior Devon Nicholson, the student body president, says Cherry’s welcoming smile and enthusiasm helps keep students going throughout long school days.
“We all have off days, but when we walk in and Mr. Cherry says good morning with a smile, it really cheers everyone up,” Nicholson said. “We definitely consider him a part of the TMLA family.
“The fact that he’s still working at [his] age, it’s like … he doesn’t want to give up his family quite yet.”
Fiona Maloney, a junior, agrees.
“I don’t know anyone as enthusiastic as him, every single morning, no matter the weather, no matter what … It makes us feel so welcomed,” she said.
Born in South Carolina, Cherry said he came to New York “a long time ago,” and has worked all of his life from odd jobs at a farm and a laundromat, to catering at La Guardia Airport and at a Marriott hotel.
He got his job at TMLA when Hercules Small, the campus grounds manager, needed a maintenance man.
In 2003, Cherry was awarded the TMLA Peacemaker Award, which is presented by the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph, the religious order that runs the school, for his selfless service.
Cherry, who’s a grandfather, lives down the block from TMLA. Two of his grandchildren attend Immaculate Conception Catholic Academy, which is across the street from TMLA. Cherry sometimes attends Mass at the parish, though he is not Catholic.
He wants to be remembered for simply being himself, and has no plans of retirement “until they throw me out.”
“I’m not going anywhere,” he said.
His life motto is: “You’ve just got to keep moving.”
“You gotta thank God when you get to my age …” Cherry said. “I got the good Lord watching over me.”