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Mike Reilly, the longtime head custodian at Killingworth Elementary School, dedicates much of his time to the Killingworth Lions. (Photo courtesy of the Killingworth Elementary School )
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Growing up in Meriden, Mike Reilly remembers hearing about the ways the local Lions Club gave back to the community. He and one of his childhood friends, Hilary Kumnick, spent time at Deer Lake in Killingworth for Boy Scouts’ summer camps. Many years later, Mike moved to Killingworth and six years ago, Killingworth Elementary School convinced him to become a Lion himself.
“Hilary had bent my ear to become a Lion—it took a couple years to come around, but I finally did,” says Mike. “It’s all about giving back to the community. I grew up in Meriden and knew the Lions there and always had respect for that organization and I’m proud to be part of this one here. All of our members put forth an effort to make Killingworth a better place and try to help people.”
Mike married his high school sweetheart, who was “a farm girl.” The couple had boarded horses for years in Middlefield, but with all of the traveling to the barn, they decided to look for a property where they could keep their horses.
“We contacted a local realtor and as soon as I heard Killingworth, I wanted to go look,” says Mike, who has now lived in town since 1988. “My wife had had horses her whole life and I wanted her to have her own horses right in her backyard.”
When Mike had been in town for about 10 years, he was ready to retire from his career in the auto parts field where he’d worked for 24 years. He chose to apply for a “retirement job” as a custodian at Killingworth Elementary School, where he has now worked for the past two decades.
“I’m not even 65 yet so I’m just about officially retirement age, but I love what I do and can see myself working into my 70s—it’s just fun,” says Mike, who is now the head custodian. “We’ve got a good crew and we take pride in making that place safe, clean, and healthy.”
In addition to every day upkeep at the school, Mike is responsible for the school in emergencies or weather-related situations like snowstorms. During Hurricane Irene, he worked to set the school up as a shelter for those in need. While they didn’t have many who stayed overnight, he noted they were busy with people coming in for showers and to get fresh water.
Even though it’s summer break, Mike and his crew are still busy, cleaning everything “from top to bottom.” Mike still enjoys his job in the summer, but he can’t wait until school is back in session as he loves seeing the kids every day.
“I’ve seen a couple generations grow up, gotten to know a lot of the parents, and the names of the kids,” says Mike. “I’m just happy to see them grow up, advance, become part of the community, and hopefully be Lions.”
Outside of work, Mike devotes much of his free time to the Lions. Once students reach middle school, they now have the chance to get involved with the Lions through the Leo Club, which has a club at both the middle school and the high school and both have some “hands-on, brilliant kids,” according to Mike.
The Killingworth Lions Club has more than 50 members and is open to anyone in the community. The club has a dinner meeting on the first Wednesday of the month and a business meeting on the third Wednesday of the month. Mike is now on the Board of Directors, which meets on the second Wednesday.
“A lot of people out there want to get involved but don’t know how so they can get hold of me at the school or check out the website,” e-clubhouse.org/sites/killingworth, says Mike. “We’re always looking for new members.”
Mike says that each of the members has a niche and everyone takes part in different events, such as the corn dog and fried dough booth at the Durham Fair, the Easter egg hunt, Christmas at the Farm, Christmas tree sales, senior dinners, food drives, and more. The group also rents 20x40 tents for events and Mike is a member of that crew.
“We do a bunch of different things throughout the year and I’m involved in quite a few different things...I try to sign up for most of the events,” says Mike, whose favorite events are those where he gets to do some cooking. “I started my work life as a cook and I usually get my hands into any event that’s food-oriented. I enjoy cooking for people.”
Mike has been the head cook for the senior dinner for the past several years. He began working under the previous head cook and when he stepped down, Mike took over. The event is free to area seniors and in addition to a meal, there is entertainment and the Citizen of the Year Award is presented. This year, Mike and the Lions cooked hot dogs for people marching in the Memorial Day parade.
In addition to fundraising events and events that give back to the community, the Lions also attend different functions where they can share information about their club. The Lions recently were the charity of the day for the carousel at Lenny & Joe’s, which was a “good opportunity to provide information about who we are and what we do.” The club also hosts a booth at the Parmelee Farm Artisan Market.
Between his full-time job and his dedication to the Lions Club, Mike doesn’t have much time left for other hobbies. Though he and his wife no longer have horses on their property, Mike spends much of his spare time on upkeep of their property. The couple has also rescued many dogs over the years. Mike enjoys bargain-hunting at flea markets and antique stores. He particularly enjoys finding antique trunks, which he refinishes.
“I’ll take dirty, 100-year-old trunk and make it into a nice piece of furniture you’re proud to keep in your house,” says Mike. “It’s fun, but it’s time-consuming and I haven’t done one since I’ve joined the Lions because I’ve dedicated my time to that.
“Between working as head custodian at KES making a nice safe place for staff and kids and doing the Lions, that’s my life now and there’s no regrets,” adds Mike. “With what I do with school and being part of community with the Lions, I can’t ask for anything more. I enjoy everything and I love this town. There is nobody more proud to be in this town than me. The best thing I ever did was move down here.”
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