SOUTH OGDEN -- Once a year, Michael Forney takes a break from his duties as head custodian at South Ogden Junior High School and spends the day teaching in the classroom.
Forney dresses as a mountain man, sets up his own tepee in the front of the classroom and teaches the kids about the fur-trade era of the mountain man.
"I have always enjoyed interacting with the students," Forney said.
"About 15 years ago, one of the history teachers found out that I was involved with mountain rendezvous re-enacting and she asked me if I would be willing to teach the seventh-grade history classes for a day when they were on the mountain man chapter."
After 31 years of custodial work, however, Forney has decided it's time for a change.
Next month, just before the students head home for Christmas break, Forney will make one last sweep through the hallways before retiring at age 48.
"I will miss the friendships with the kids," he said. "I think they help keep me young by trying to keep up with them."
Chris Earnest, a teacher at Sandridge Junior High School, was a teacher and coach at South Ogden Junior High for many years and said it's going to be a sad day when Forney leaves the building for the last time.
"He is just such a wonderful guy," she said. "He would stop whatever he was doing to help the kids and the teachers. It didn't matter if it was a locker or someone getting sick. He was always right there."
Forney would always arrive at the school extra early to make sure students and parents didn't have to sit outside in the cold, Earnest said.
"He was always reliable. Always very humble. He always went the extra mile," she said. "He was very creative with metal and iron and would always make special things for the teachers.
"He was a great mountain man. The kids loved it when he dressed up and taught them."
Forney was born in Harrisburg, Pa., and moved to South Ogden at age 3. He attended the very school from which he would end up retiring.
"I went to MarLon Hills Elementary, South Ogden Junior High School and Bonneville High School class of 1980," he said.
"I started working for the school district my senior year of high school at the old Washington Terrace Elementary as a part-time custodian."
He was hired full time at South Ogden Junior High in 1988 as assistant head custodian and was promoted to head custodian in 1994.
"I enjoyed working the 1 to 9 p.m. shift because it allowed me to attend classes at Weber State, where I was studying to be a machinist," he said.
Forney is also known to be a bit of a prankster at the school. His favorite was when he got to pay back a student for teasing him.
"I would replace their locker door with a piece of clear plexiglass so everyone could see what was in their locker," he said.
"It became almost an honor to get pranked by me because there are so many kids there, and I only have so much spare time. I really try to make it a fun place for the kids to be."
Forney, who lives in the same house he grew up in, right up against the back of the old South Ogden Junior High School, said he plans to continue learning about blacksmithing and metal art after retiring.
He will also continue his hobby of wildlife photography, driving his jeep in Moab and riding his motorcycle, which he custom built. He has plans to restore an old truck.
As retirement approaches, about the only thing Forney asks is that the South Ogden Junior High Spartans keep the lunchroom a little cleaner for his successors.
"I didn't plan on making a career out of this job, but life doesn't always take us where we think we should go. I stayed with this job because of the great faculty and staff I get to work with every day," he said.
"The kids can be a challenge at times, but I really believe that I help to make a difference in some of those kids' lives, and that is very rewarding.
"Spartans are great."