NEWTON, Kan. (KSNW) — A Newton High School janitor is taking the spotlight for his work ethic and positivity.
Bernard Okpe has been working full-time for Newton High School for six years. Okpe’s work ethic is something that many people notice about him.
“He’s a very hard worker. He’s one of those unsung heroes behind the scenes, guys. It’s just doing all sorts of things for us,” said Principal Caleb Smith, Newton High School. “He sacrificed things to make his life, and the life of his family better, and he’s done things that most people wouldn’t be willing to do, just to give his family a better life, and so that’s I think it’s admirable and says a lot about his character.”
Okpe is from Nigeria. His first son, Matthew, was attending college there, but one day came home and asked if he could go to the United States to get a better education.
“He said, ‘daddy, I don’t want to go to school in Nigeria again, I want to go to school in America, and I said, ‘are you well?'” said Okpe.
Okpe said he would make it happen and followed his son to Lagos, the largest city in Nigeria.
His first son left Nigeria in August of 2001, and a few days later, another sibling left as well.
“On the second day, Matthew told me, ‘they’re asking me to pay school fees, but I don’t have the money,’ and I talked to them and said the money is on the way,” said Okpe.
For several years, Okpe worked at a restaurant in Nigeria while communicating over the phone with his family in the United States.
In 2010, he finally made his way to the United States with his wife and daughter.
Within six months, he became a U.S. citizen. Next, he needed to begin working to be able to pay to get the rest of his family to join them.
“I went to immigration, and they said to get your family here, you have to pay $2,000,” he said.
He worked as a contract worker and an assembly line worker but said it was challenging because he didn’t have a car to get to and from work.
“I was begging people to give me a ride, and they were charging way too much,” said Okpe.
That’s what led him to find a full-time position at Newton High School.
Newton High School Principal Caleb Smith said that work ethic is something he noticed right away.
“Bernard is an amazing guy,” Smith. “Every time I meet him, he’s got a big smile and says hello, and he’s just, he’s a very hard worker.”
Okpe said it’s his dream job to be able to work at a school.
“I love my job because I like to see children, I like to see students, especially the students, I love school,” he said.
His wife also works for the school in the kitchen. Smith said he is the sunshine at the high school.
“I’m sure he has bad days, I’m sure that he struggles at times, but you would never know it. His ability to handle adversity is amazing, and I think our kids can learn from his ability to overcome adversity and have some grit,” said Smith.
Smith said the school puts a big emphasis on culture.
“We want kids to feel welcome and feel like they’re a part of the Railer family, so we do a lot of different things just to show appreciation and show avenues to voice concerns through different things, and we just want everybody to feel like they’re no matter who you are, what your job is what you do here that you’re important,” said Smith.
He said there are roughly 10 different languages that students and staff speak. He said it’s a great learning opportunity for everyone.
“We just want to embrace that diversity that we have and learn from them and try to just come closer through knowing more about each other’s cultures,” said Smith.
It’s that love of sharing and hard work that’s paying off for Bernard Okpe and his family, but there are still obstacles to overcome.
He said he has more family over in Nigeria and hopes he will be able to bring them to the U.S. so they can be together again as a family.