For the past 29 years custodian Kathy Fryman wasn’t just taking care of Augusta Independent School’s building, she was taking care of the people inside.
“She just has a unique way of making others feel nurtured, comforted and cared for, like a mother or grandmother,” said Superintendent Lisa McCane. “She would just be there and listen. Everyone felt that they could disclose information to her and she’s not going to tell anybody.”
Fryman would often ask staff to check on a student who wasn’t feeling well or who was going through tough times at home. An item a teacher had mentioned she needed would show up on a desk and something Fryman knew a student needed might appear in a backpack.
“I’ve always been that way,” said Fryman, who recently retired after nearly 30 years at the school. “I just love it. When I’m at home I feel like I’m not doing what I was put on this earth to do, because I need to be doing something for somebody.”
For her service and dedication to the school, Fryman was given the 2017 Fred Award from the Kentucky Association of School Administrators (KASA). The award recognizes non-administrative staff, students or volunteers whose extraordinary effort creates a positive learning atmosphere at their school. The award – which is in its 10th year – was inspired by Mark Sanborn’s best-selling book “The Fred Factor,” in which he recounts how his postal carrier – Fred – goes the extra mile in delivering the mail and everything else he does.
“Kathy is one of those extraordinary individuals with a pure and absolute devotion to others,” said Rhonda Caldwell, KASA deputy director. “She is a bright, shining presence in the lives of everyone she comes in contact with, showing them the value of hard work, selfless acts and the power of positive thinking. She truly has a heart for servant leadership and is worthy of the highest recognition.”
But Fryman was surprised to even be nominated for the Fred Award. She was one of three finalists when KASA revealed the winner at its July conference in Louisville.
“It was unbelievable,” Fryman said. “I don’t ever want anything for what I do; the joy that I get is the smile on the kids’ faces. I cried so hard because I just never received anything. People thank me and that’s all that I need.”
Fryman’s love for the students, teachers and staff wasn’t the only thing that made her an outstanding custodian, said McCane, whose district includes one pre-K through 12th grade school along the banks of the Ohio River in Bracken County.
“She could do just so many things,” McCane said. “Our building has a lot nooks and crannies. The main part is more than 100 years old.”
Before all the doors had standardized locks, every door in the building needed a different key. Fryman carried them all and knew which door each key opened.
When McCane was principal, she’d often lock herself out and call Fryman.
“I’d say, ‘Where are you at? Are you at school?’ And she’d say, ‘It doesn’t matter. I’ll be right there,’” McCane said. “And she would come from home.”
If a fire alarm malfunctioned, Fryman could fix it. If the phone system went down, she knew what to do. The oldest part of the building was special to Fryman because it was the building in which she and her husband attended classes as children.
“That old building is just absolutely beautiful,” she said. “The stairways, there’s just something about it. New is good, but the old building has so many memories in it.”
Refinishing the 1892 hardwood floors always made Fryman appreciated the building even more.
“When you strip those floors down and you put the new varnish on them, they just come alive again,” she said. “It’s like it’s brand new all over again.”
Fryman watched her three children and some of her six grandchildren walk across those floors as they attended the school. But she treated all students like family and knew every student’s name, McCane said.
“Not only every kid’s name, their parents, their grandparents, probably their great grandparents, their aunts and uncles,” she said. “I mean half the time she’s telling me stuff. I’ve said she’s better than Google.”
Even in her retirement, Fryman has not stopped serving others. Her best friend – a long-time Augusta school volunteer – was diagnosed with cancer soon after Fryman’s retirement. Fryman has become her friend’s caregiver, driving her to multiple appoints more than an hour’s drive away.
“She’s just running all over creation with her friend, taking her to doctors,” McCane said. “But that’s Kathy, she never does anything for herself.”
Before she retired, the school celebrated Fryman with a “We Love Kathy Fryman Day,” which included a proclamation from Augusta’s mayor. Fryman received balloons, flowers and lots of hugs from students, teachers and staff.
“I miss it. I miss the kids, I miss the laughter, I miss the stories,” she said. “That is the joy of life.”
But Fryman isn’t done helping Augusta’s students. She plans to use the $500 she received for winning the Fred Award to allow the school to throw a celebration for the students.
“I want them to give the kids a party in the gym for everything they did for me,” Fryman said. “I want to do for them, so I’m giving it back.”