Joseph Dull (center) surrounded by family and coworkers outside Salem's Elsoinore Theatre where he was honored with a Crystal Apple Award by the Salem-Keizer Education Foundation. (Submitted)

Joseph Dull (center) surrounded by family and coworkers outside Salem’s Elsoinore Theatre where he was honored with a Crystal Apple Award by the Salem-Keizer Education Foundation. PIPER/Tania Calderon

By DEREK WILEY
Of the Keizertimes

When a McNary High School student was frustrated with school and didn’t want to go to class, custodian Joseph Dull walked him over to the wall of clubs and encouraged him to get involved.

“You have this one chance at life; you must make the most of it,” Dull told him.

This is just one of many stories written about Dull from MHS staff and students, nominating him for a Crystal Apple Award.

Dull received one of 13 Crystal Apples out of 47 nominees at a ceremony on Thursday, Nov. 4 at Salem’s Historic Elsinore Theater.

He was surprised.

“When I sat there and they started honoring the people, I know I’m not going to win because I’m a custodian,” Dull said. “Most of them are teachers, coaches, principals and office managers. They have a good professional title but I don’t have any of that. In 1,000 years, I never thought I’m going to win.”

But the students at McNary see Dull as more than a custodian.

“Joseph has put an entire new face on the way that our students look at a janitor,” senior Tarik Naccasha wrote in his nomination letter. “Joseph Dull has changed me as a person in life in many ways I don’t think he could ever see or know and I’m forever grateful for him.”

“I think they look at me as a friend,” Dull said of the students. “Most of the kids know my name. I don’t know how many times I hear, ‘Mr. Joseph, how are you?’ or ‘Hey Joseph,’ things like that.”

Born in Korea, Dull was an orphan until he was adopted by an American family and moved to Newberg at age 13. Dull spent his high school years in Oklahoma, where his parents went to a Bible college to become missionaries. He then moved to California to become youth pastor of a Korean Church.

“As a youth pastor I deal with a lot of kids with drugs, run away from homes and who didn’t want to live with parents,” Dull said. “Korean parents are really strict. I understand that. When I was working with the youth, (there were) a lot of drugs and gangs. (I) was threatened by gangs because some kids were coming to church to be changed and they don’t like that. Many times those kids coming for me to do some harming but never got that far. I understand the teenager’s situations.”

Seven years ago, Dull began working as a substitute custodian at McKay High School. He also worked part-time at North Salem and Walker Middle School and when a full-time position opened at Hallman Elementary, he decided to apply.

Dull is in his second year at McNary.

He arrives at the school each morning by 5:10 to have the school ready to open by 5:30.

“I want to make sure that all the classrooms and the halls, everything is clean so that when kids come they’ll be more happy to be here,” Dull said.

Once school starts, Dull estimates he cleans up at least five to six dropped Starbucks or Dutch Bros drinks a day.

“I always say when I come to the school in the morning, ‘I’m serving the future President or officer in the United States’ and I have that kind of attitude,” Dull said. “I always respect kids no matter who they are, even though they spill chocolate milk or coffee. I don’t get mad. I do believe these kids are the future. I’m so honored to serve them.”

When Dull was called to a leadership meeting to clean a spill and overheard students talking about what they could do for staff appreciation week, he went to a teacher to ask how he could help. Dull and his wife, Janet, who have their own business, Spring Spud, donated the ingredients for a Korean meal to feed the entire staff of almost 200.

“I talked to the cooking class,” Dull said. “The kids were more involved than we were. We didn’t do anything. We brought the materials. Kids all did it. They cooked it, they chopped it, they did everything. They served.”

Dull has also helped leadership students prepare the Veteran’s Day celebration and mentored students from McNary’s business program.

He is just honored to be at a school whose desire is to be world class in everything it does.

“Our school is world class,” Dull said. “When I think about it, I want to be part of it. I want to be the world class that our principal, Erik (Jespersen), talks about. We never know what they are going to be 10 years later, when they graduate from the universities and move on to their future, we never know and I want to be part of the world class for them. That’s the beauty. That’s what I want to be part of.”

Both Jespersen and activities/leadership director Dan Borresen said Dull is the best custodian McNary has ever had.

“The custodial staff at McNary High School used to be an invisible group that moved about with the sole function of keeping the building clean,” Jespersen wrote in his letter. “Now the custodial staff is an integral part of our school with a vested interest in our school’s overall mission.”

“He is one of the most amazing people I have ever met,” Borresen said. “I’m proud to call him a friend and colleague…What separates Joseph from other custodians is his sincere love for helping others—especially the students of our high school.”