Sweeping thoughts: School janitor publishes book of poems
By DONNA VICKROY Sun-Times Mediafirstname.lastname@example.org December 10, 2012 12:58AM
Custodian Sylvester Anderson holds the book of poetry he has written, "Life Through Celestial Lenses," at Palos West School where he works in Palos Park, Illinois, Monday, December 3, 2012. | Joseph P. Meier~Sun Times Media
Updated: January 11, 2013 6:25AM
While he’s sweeping classroom floors, replacing light bulbs and maintaining the boiler, Sylvester Anderson is thinking in verse.
“Mountains beware, You shall be moved, The sea will be silenced and parted I do believe, And faith will speak, Fear will sit and be quiet.”
The evening custodian for Palos West School in Palos Park has been a poet since about the third grade, when he wrote a tribute to his mother.
It read, “Dear Josie, I love you because you help me, when I get sores and pains, or when I get soaked in the rain . . . ”
It was so well -received by family members that it launched a lifelong hobby for the man who says he has always been an introspective soul.
“I try to be inspirational,” said Anderson, 47. “I try to keep people encouraged.”
And they return the favor.
For years, teachers and staff at Palos West told him he should publish the collection of poems written on scraps of paper in the trunk of his car. In October, he finally did.
His first book, “Life Through Celestial Lenses,” is a compilation of some of his favorite works. The paperback, available on demand through amazon.com, sells for $4.
“My sister and I surprised my mom with the first copy,” he said. “She said, ‘No one has ever done this for me.’ ”
Rosalie White, library media specialist at the school, said, “Sylvester is an incredibly talented writer who writes from his heart. He has spent years working to get a book published, not for his own recognition, but because he believes mostly in reaching out to others, giving others hope and inspiring.”
In mid-November, the staff surprised him with a book signing.
Principal “Ron Cozza told me there was an emergency in the media center,” Anderson said. “When I got there, there was a crowd of people, all clapping. There was a red carpet and everything.”
Teacher Jill Duffner said, “I used Sylvester’s personal story to inspire my second-grade class to use their talents and follow their dreams.”
Anderson, who lives in Alsip, also works part time as a custodian at Moraine Valley Community College’s Blue Island satellite campus. He and his wife, Lourdes, have three children and three grandchildren, as well as one on the way.
Since he was a boy, he’s been writing poems, mostly of a spiritual nature. He also writes personal poems and includes them in birthday cards.
“I was a shy, quiet kid in high school,” he said. Most of his thoughts ended up as poems, sometimes rhyming, always lyrical.
On the last day of school before winter break, he leaves a poem with a rose on each teacher’s desk.
Johnine Dugan, a retired teacher who now substitutes, said Anderson truly cares about each person at Palos West.
“He enters the classroom with a warm and friendly hello,” she said. “Oftentimes he will leave a single flower and a poem on the desks of all the female teachers’ classrooms that he cleans. He is a wonderful friend.”
Anderson said he finds inspiration in just about everything: people, music, his faith.
Among his biggest fans, in addition to his mother, is his sister, Elaine Mathis, of Country Club Hills.
“She wants to get me on ‘Ellen,’ ” Anderson said. “She is my agent, my manager, my marketer.”
In 2007, his sister’s son, Keith Mathis, 21, died of a gunshot wound.
“That really hit home, really made me appreciate life,” he said.
“I just try to appreciate everybody and everything, every day of my life,” he said. “This is how I express my thoughts and my feelings, as well as my faith. I’m not trying to tell people how to live. I’m just sharing what makes me, me.”
“Sylvester is a gift to our school,” pre-K teacher Lee Harwing said. “We are so glad he has now shared this gift with the rest of the world.”