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Orrington Elementary School sits in a cozy northeast Evanston neighborhood, where children play on the streets and neighbors mingle over a glass of wine.
Despite rising temperatures and the growing spirit of summer, the community collectively mourns a loss from the previous summer. Michelet Boursiquot, known by most as Mr. B, passed away last July and while his absence weighs heavily on the community, his memory is alive in the colorful “kindness rocks” that decorate the school gardens, in the stories that families tell, in the bricks dedicated to Mr. B, and in the hearts of every life he touched.
For more than 35 years, Mr. B taught the community patience, kindness, lightheartedness, inclusivity, and love. He worked as the Orrington School’s head custodian, but he is remembered as the heart and soul of the school and the surrounding neighborhood.
“He was an angel that God had sent to Orrington School,” said the school’s secretary, Rowena Edwards. He never called in sick, and he considered the Orrington School his life, she said.
Mr. B knew all the students’ names, their siblings’ names, and their parents’ names, said Orrington parent Jennifer Shadur. He consoled crying kindergarteners, parents said, halted bullying, and always knew when a student was feeling down. He was a listening ear, he loved every student unconditionally, and, most of all, he was exceptionally kind.
“He was the person you wanted to see every day,” said former Orrington student Annika DeStefano. “He always had the biggest smile and always made me feel at home. He was genuinely one of the kindest, most amazing, caring people I’ve ever met.”
Orrington Hosts a Celebration of Life
On June 5, Evanstonians gathered to celebrate the life of Mr. B. Around 120 former students, current students, parents, administrators, friends, and family members attended the celebration. Organizers shared their memories of Mr. B, and asked others to step up to the microphone and share their stories as well.
At the event, Orrington Parent Eric Diekhans shared a story about a time his daughter left the microphone to her hearing aid at the school during a break. She really wanted to go to the school, and retrieve it, and Mr. Diekhans agreed to stop by, knowing the school was empty, but hoping the visit would calm her down. He knocked on the door, and within minutes, Mr. B popped his head out, and soon retrieved the hearing aid microphone, said Mr. Diekhans. Mr. B was always at the school, and always committed to helping his students, he said.
At Saturday’s celebration, colorfully painted stones decorated three plastic folding tables. Students and their families decorated the rocks with images and messages and lay them in a special garden, titled “Mr. B’s kindness garden.” The garden was built in his memory, and students are encouraged to take and exchange the colorful rocks, which represent tokens of kindness.
In the back of the school, a section of the ground is decorated with bricks that community members could donate and engrave. Several of these bricks were engraved in honor of Mr. B, years before he died. One of them reads, “This brick is dedicated to Mitch Boursiquot for his many years of care and devotion to his beloved Orrington and its students.”
Protector of the School
In addition to loving and providing constant support for the students, Mr. B protected them fiercely. One morning, a stranger stood outside the school, said Ms. Shadur. Mr. B walked the perimeter of the school, keeping an eye on the stranger and protecting the students. On another occasion, a fox ran along the front door of the Orrington School. “Mr B. flew out the door, looking as if he was ready to fight a wild animal for Orrington if he must,” wrote former Orrington parent Kiera Kelly in a memo shared with the RoundTable.
Orrington School was founded nearly 110 years ago and the building frequently experiences flooding and other issues. Mr. B expertly operated the school building. If there were any concerns, Mr. B was there, day or night, weekday or weekend, ensuring the building was functioning and in good condition.
A Room for Everyone
“He taught us how to be kind to other people,” said Sam Hodgman, a rising fifth-grader at Orrington. “He was really nice.” Sam said Mr. B was always joking around and that he invited Sam and his friends to join him in his room for lunch.
Former students Annika DeStafano and Maddy Aaronson, who graduated in 2011, said they also remember going to Mr. B’s room for lunch. His room was the ultimate hangout, with a fish tank, a TV, and snacks, said Ms. Aaronson. If a student didn’t have anywhere to eat or any place to be, Mr. B made sure to look after them and invite them to his room, said Ms. DeStefano.
“His presence made the day better,” said Ms. DeStefano. Mr. B taught students the value in giving and being thoughtful, and Ms. DeStefano said she remembers looking forward to lunch every day as a student because it meant seeing Mr. B.
“A Wicked Sense of Humor”
Mr. B also had an incredible sense of humor. He loved tapping students on the shoulder, and then looking away quickly. He was always cheerful and smiling, and his laugh was infectious, said former Orrington parent Laura Baumann. Mr. B knew exactly what to say to cheer up an upset student or a stressed parent. “He was able to make people laugh all the time,” said Ms. Baumann. “That’s a gift, to have that kind of sense of humor.
Orrington Principal Jessica Plaza said when she first became principal, Mr. B laughed and told her she was too young for the position. But he told her it was okay, he was there, and he would help her, said Ms. Plaza.
Mr. B knew when parents were stressed, and he knew how to let them know that everything was going to be okay. He was always available to help and nothing ever upset or overwhelmed him, said Ms. Plaza. “You could never ruffle his feathers,” she said.
Mr. B also taught the community not to take things as seriously. Ms. Shadur said for a while she juggled two boys as a single mom, and during that time, her interactions with Mr. B were especially influential. On one occasion, Ms. Shadur was involved in a fender-bender and was picking up her boys from school. She was really upset and stressed, but Mr. B came outside, wiped paint off her car, gave her a hug, and it was as though nothing had happened, she said.
Mr. B had a way of putting things in perspective, said Michael Likhite, a fifth-grade teacher at Orrington. As a teacher, Mr. Likhite said, he has days when he feels like he is not making an impact or where his students are not learning the material, and that is frustrating. But Mr. B helped him realize work is not judged by a single day and to be patient and take a break now and then.
“He was very fatherly to me,” said Mr. Likhite. Mr. B was like the metaphorical “village” in the expression “it takes a village to raise a child,” and Mr. B helped Mr. Likhite raise his own children, he said.
Family is Everything
Mr. B’s family attended the event at the Orrington School. His daughter, Marilyn Boursiquot said the community coming together to support her father meant everything to her. She thanked everyone for their love, support, and continued prayers.
Ms. Boursiquot said her father taught her to always be positive, even when she felt down. Showing up with a smile might make someone else’s day, he would tell her. Her father also taught her to always check in on people, and that a simple “Hi, how are you?” can brighten someone’s day, said Ms. Boursiquot.
“We’re not the only ones who felt the loss,” said Ms. Boursiquot. “A community felt the loss, the school community, the Haitan community felt his loss.” For her father, coming in to work every day, being with the children, being with his co-workers, being with his family meant the world to him, she said. It is rare to find someone who was the same every single day, but Mr. B was like that, said Ms. Boursiquot.
Ms. Boursiquot’s sister, Michelle Boursiquot, also attended the event. She said she knew her father was loved, but she was not prepared for the number of people and the generations of students that loved her father. “It’s very, very heartwarming, and I’m very grateful that everyone in this community has embraced my dad,” she said. . .when he was 20, got earned a GED, went to night school at Truman College, and worked for a Ford dealership before joining the school district.
Speaking Mr. B’s Name
In 2016, Mr. B’s car was stolen. A GoFundMe was set up to raise money for him, and within a couple days, the community raised more than $11,000, so he could buy a new car. “That is a testament to how much he was loved, and what people would have done for him,” said Ms. Baumann.
Ms. Shadur said her family believes people die twice: once when their body fails them, and once when people stop speaking their name. “We speak Mr. B’s name a lot around here,” she said.
The school is also organizing a “Be like Mr. B” day, on or near Sept. 24, what would have been his birthday. On this day, the community will remember and celebrate all of Mr. B’s qualities that they want to exhibit. They remind themselves to be kind, be generous, be funny, be nice, be truthful, be clean, and be happy.
“In my family, we hope that we get to be like Mr. B, and walk like Mr. B and talk like Mr. B and live like Mr. B,” Ms. Shadur said. “We miss him.”