In a patch of earth not far from decades-old classrooms stands a young, red bougainvillea plant. A wooden stick steadies the sapling as it begins its journey as a living reminder of a revered member Hesperia Junior High School staff.
Last Friday morning, teachers, coaches, administrators and others gathered at the planter, which includes other freshly-planted foliage and a special stone, to remember Rodney Sheldon Mueller, a beloved custodian who took care of more than desks, chalk boards and sports fields.
"Rod was kind of like a shepherd," said Principal Robert McCollum. "He was always guarding the flock."
On April 20, shortly after leaving work, Mueller, 58, was struck by a utility truck while riding home on his motorcycle. He died as a result of his injuries.
"In his personal life he always did good deeds," McCollum said. "He inspired me."
And the school principal certainly was not alone.
When one teacher learned that she was going to be laid off due to district budget cuts, Mueller shared hope.
"I've been down and out so many times," he told the teacher, "but I still have my family and loved ones."
"That really helped," the teacher said during the ceremony.
Teacher Brianna Richardson told Mueller that she wanted to start a clothes closet to help needy students. Not surprisingly, the custodian took her desire to help others to heart.
"The next day there was a closet in my room," Richardson said.
For five years, custodian John Gibson "worked shoulder to shoulder" with Mueller. Mueller's good deeds were numerous, according to Gibson.
"If you didn't have lunch, he'd get you lunch," he said. "He was just really, really helpful."
And, Gibson added, "He wasn't one of those guys that would do his eight hours and leave. It's hard to fill Rod's shoes. He just did so much, so much."
Teachers and other staff members weren't the only ones who learned lessons from Mueller. One time he gave words of encouragement to a student who had been placed on probation. After learning that Mueller had died, the student and his mother were devastated.
"He touched not only our lives, but he touched the kids' lives," one teacher said.
But Mueller wasn't only good to people. He had a tender heart for animals too.
"There were cats all over the place," McCollum remembered. "Where are they coming from?"
It turned out Mueller the animal lover would make sure the felines stomaches weren't empty.
"He came out on weekends to feed them, even during the snow," according to Gibson.
Joining the Hesperia Junior staff at the ceremony were Mueller's widow, Ruth Mueller, his youngest son Julie Mueller and her baby daughter, Alice, and his son-in-law Joe Bulman.
"It means so much to us to know he was loved and appreciated," Ruth Mueller said.
The love and admiration was clear.
"Rod really touched our lives," a male teacher said. "Ride in peace. God speed, Rod."