VAN ALSTYNE — Marlon Thomas says that coming to Van Alstyne has given him many blessings. Chief among them is his job as a janitor at John and Nelda Partin Elementary.

In less than a year, his positive attitude and ever-present smile have made him a favorite among teachers and students.

Thomas, as well as Bob and Lola Sanford Elementary School custodian Roger Kuntz, were recognized during the February Van Alstyne ISD board of trustees meeting.

“Marlon is amazing and we knew that pretty much from Day One,” Partin Principal Kristi Odom said. “He connected with people right away.”

For Thomas, the decision to move to Texas was not an easy one. He’s a native of Pine Bluff, Arkansas, where many of his close family members and friends remain. However, when his girlfriend wanted to return to Texas, he decided to join her last spring.

Thomas landed his job with Van Alstyne ISD on the second day he was here. He said there’s no place else he would rather be.

“When I came up in school, I always looked up to everybody - the teachers, janitors, P.E. teachers - all of them helped me out. I looked forward to seeing them every day,” Thomas says. “That’s something that rubbed off on me, so I’d like to do that for the kids that I’m around.”

Teachers immediately noticed his smile and how he answered questions with a polite “Yes ma’am” or “No ma’am.” They began using him as an example of having good manners and keeping a positive attitude.

Soon, students were giving him high fives in the hallway and saying hello to “Mr. Marlon” whenever they saw him.

Thomas says that the unexpected death of his younger brother at age 17 affected him deeply. He died without a strong father figure in his life.

Thomas made it his mission to be a positive force in the lives of kids. Sometimes it’s just something as simple as a quick conversation or asking about their day. He hopes these small gestures take make their days little better.

This school year, he said, one student in particular was having a hard time attending art class. Thomas took him under his wing and showed him how to sweep and do other tasks.

Soon other students were earning “special breaks” and got to help Mr. Marlon with various tasks.

Away from work, Thomas says his life revolves around children.

His 11-year-old daughter brings friends over to their home, he said, so there’s plenty of kickball, softball and video gaming going on around the house. Also, having a 1-year-old son around means there’s never a dull moment.

A few Partin teachers have suggested that Thomas become a teacher’s aide. While he is honored by the suggestion, he says he actually enjoys cleaning. In fact, he says, the job is easy since he gets to work in such a good environment.

As for his smile, Thomas has been told that he even smiles in his sleep. It’s a trait he inherited from his grandfather and something he says helps him get through the day no matter how things are going.

“He is just one of those good, quality guys that we need in kids’ lives,” Odom said. “He’s a great mentor to them and he’s really awesome.”