Thermopolis Custodian Joe Arnold Gets Surprise Celebration For 60-Year Career

On Wednesday, every student in Hot Springs County School District 1, and U.S. Sen. John Barrasso, gathered to honor the 60-year career of custodian Joe Arnold. The celebration was held in the administration building which has been named after him.

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Andrew Rossi

February 21, 20245 min read

Joe Arnold, the longtime custodian for the Hot Springs School District 1 administration building, was surprised by an assembly in his honor Wednesday. He's pictured here with Superintendent Dustin Hunt, behind.
Joe Arnold, the longtime custodian for the Hot Springs School District 1 administration building, was surprised by an assembly in his honor Wednesday. He's pictured here with Superintendent Dustin Hunt, behind. (Jessica Lippincott, Courtesy Photo)

THERMOPOLIS — Nearly everybody in Hot Springs County School District 1 knows Joe Arnold. So do their parents, and their parents’ parents.

In fact, you’d have to go back to the John F. Kennedy administration to find a time Arnold wasn’t there working toward better education for Wyoming students.

Arnold has just marked his 40th year working as a custodian for the school district. He spent 22 years before that with the Carbon County School District in Rawlins.

He’s been such a fixture that the Hot Springs County School District has named its administration building — which he’s been cleaning for decades — after him.

On Wednesday, every student in the district gathered in the auditorium of the Joe Arnold Central Administration Building for a surprise. None of them, or their teachers, knew what was in store.

But Superintendent Dustin Hunt was there, and a sharp-eyed student might have noticed as Wyoming U.S. Sen. John Barrasso made his way to the stage unannounced.

Neither the superintendent nor the senator was the guest of honor. That was reserved for Arnold.

And nobody was more surprised than the man who’d be tasked with cleaning up after the assembly.

60 Years Of Service

As Arnold approached his 60th year working in Wyoming schools, the building was named for him, but the district wanted to do something the students could be part of.

“Joe's passion for the job goes well beyond his pride in his work,” Hunt said as he revealed the occasion for the morning assembly. “He doesn't look at the time clock. He looks at the job to be completed.”

Hunt recalled when Arnold underwent surgery for hammertoe, which required placing a titanium pin through his big toe. The recovery time is “long and painful,” and Hunt expected the committed custodian to be off his feet for a while.

Imagine his surprise when he pulled up to the administration building at 7:30 a.m. after a heavy snowstorm and encountered Arnold shoveling the steps. He had been there since 3:30 a.m.

“Joe was shoveling with a plastic bread sack over his newly repaired toe to keep it dry,” Hunt said. “He was worried that if he didn't get the snow removed, someone might fall.”

When the school district decided to get a snowblower for Arnold to spare him from shoveling, Hunt said Arnold “promptly taught a new custodian how to run it, passed it off, and went back to work.”

  • "Mr. Joe" Arnold in his office at the Hot Springs School District administration building.
    "Mr. Joe" Arnold in his office at the Hot Springs School District administration building. (Andrew Rossi for Cowboy State Daily)
  • U.S. Sen. John Barrasso said Joe Arnold's work ethic and dedication are legendary and he read an account of Arnold's life and service into the U.S. Congressional Record.
    U.S. Sen. John Barrasso said Joe Arnold's work ethic and dedication are legendary and he read an account of Arnold's life and service into the U.S. Congressional Record. (Jessica Lippincott, Courtesy Photo)
  • A plaque was unveiled Wednesday honoring Joe Arnold. It will be inside the entrance to the recently renamed Joe Arnold Central Administration Building.
    A plaque was unveiled Wednesday honoring Joe Arnold. It will be inside the entrance to the recently renamed Joe Arnold Central Administration Building. (Jessica Lippincott, Courtesy Photo)
  • All the students in Hot Springs School District 1 were at Wednesday's assembly.
    All the students in Hot Springs School District 1 were at Wednesday's assembly. (Jessica Lippincott, Courtesy Photo)
  • "Mr. Joe" Arnold has been with the Hot Springs County School District for 40 years, and cleaning Wyoming schools for 60 years. To students and staff, he's much more than a custodian, he's a friend and mentor.
    "Mr. Joe" Arnold has been with the Hot Springs County School District for 40 years, and cleaning Wyoming schools for 60 years. To students and staff, he's much more than a custodian, he's a friend and mentor. (Andrew Rossi for Cowboy State Daily)
  • Joe Arnold in front of the building that will soon have his name on it.
    Joe Arnold in front of the building that will soon have his name on it. (Andrew Rossi for Cowboy State Daily)

Beyond The Building

Hunt described Arnold’s generosity outside of school.

In the Thermopolis community, he’s known for attending local charity auctions, buying high-dollar items and donating them to be auctioned off again. And if he wins them a second time, he donates them to the family or causes benefiting from the fundraiser.

“It is not uncommon to hear of Joe giving several thousand dollars to graduates and helping them finance their education,” Hunt said. “He would be embarrassed if you knew of his generosity, but it cannot be overlooked. He's as humble as people come.”

The Congressional Record

When Barrasso reached the podium, he told the K-12 students how happy he was to be back “with the Bobcats.”

“My wife was a Bobcat, through and through,” he said to overwhelming applause.

Bobbi Barrasso, a Thermopolis native, died Jan. 24 after a two-year battle with brain cancer.

“I was invited to be the commencement speaker in 2021, and Joe was there cleaning up after,” Barrasso said. “I was here in this building when we dedicated the Robert L Brown Post Office in town for Bobbi's dad, who spent 41 years working in that post office. That was the last time I was here.

“And Joe had the place ready before and cleaned up afterward. Joe, I have been so overwhelmingly impressed with you.”

That’s why Barrasso put an account of Arnold’s life and service in the U.S. Congressional Record in the U.S. Senate. He wanted “to tell Arnold’s story to the people all around the country to hear about what he has done and his service to our community and, in such, his service to the country.”

After describing the numerous qualities that have made Arnold a beloved figure in his community, Barrasso congratulated him for his commitment to the students and building that will forever bear his name.

“That’s Joe,” he said.

It’s Just My Building

As Arnold made his way to the stage, accompanied by a student, everyone in the auditorium jumped to their feet with rapturous applause. The emotion could be heard in his voice as he made a brief statement.

“It's just not me,” he said. “These guys push. Kids push me, and I love them. And that's what I’m in for. And I appreciate each and every one of you. Thank you.”

Arnold was presented with a plaque that will be permanently placed at the entrance of the Joe Arnold Central Administration Building.

“The plaque will hang here until the end of the time that this building is functional,” Hunt said. “But I believe that Mr. Arnold's legacy, his work ethic, his generosity and his kindness that has changed lives forever will live on a lot longer than that.”

The plaque includes a picture of Arnold, a summary of his impactful career in Thermopolis, and his oft-repeated statement about his six decades of work.

“This isn’t work, it’s just my building,” he said.

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Andrew Rossi can be reached at arossi@cowboystatedaily.com.

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Andrew Rossi

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