Students, staff help ailing school custodian

A student leaves school as he passes a sign on the west fence at Redlands Middle School, which was hung in support of staff member Robert Lesko who has lung cancer. Lesko helped build the school and has worked there for the past 21 years.

Lead Custodian Robert Lesko was a common, friendly sight at Redlands Middle School for 21 years.

So when he went on leave two months ago, his absence was noted by students and staff.

A doctor found a mass in Lesko’s lung in early September. A biopsy revealed the 53-year-old father of three had Stage IV lung cancer.

Lesko’s wife, Sylvia, said her husband has been in and out of the hospital the past few months for a broken rib, blood clots and pneumonia but was able to start chemotherapy Nov. 4. She said he’s doing as well as possible emotionally but the family is still in shock over the diagnosis. She said Robert recently learned his eldest daughter is pregnant and he’s excited to meet his grandson.

“He said he has to hold on so he can take his grandson fishing,” Sylvia said.

Sylvia said Robert worked for a construction company that built Redlands Middle School, then got a job there after the school opened. He sent his three daughters there and enjoys interacting with kids, whether he’s working through the school’s three lunch shifts or helping a student open a locker.

Redlands Middle School student senators designed wrist bands to support Lesko and all 580-plus students made get-well cards for him. A Redlands Middle School staff member set up a website to raise a goal of $10,000 for his medical treatment at More than $2,000 had been pledged as of Tuesday afternoon.

Today, the school will host a fundraiser to raise money to help support his fight against cancer. The fundraiser will begin at 2 p.m. with students participating in a walk-a-thon. Students can walk until 2:45 or stay through the end of the event at 5 p.m. Students are collecting donations based on how many laps they walk or how long they walk.

A chili supper and silent auction will take place at the school from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. The dinner costs $5 per person or $20 for a family. Donated items and themed baskets of goodies will be auctioned, desserts will be sold, and people can buy or order “Let’s Go Lesko” T-shirts. The shirts, which feature a heart on a pair of lungs and an eagle face, were designed by Redlands students Riley Trujillo and Caroline Qualls.

School secretary Carrie Euler said the entire school knows why Lesko is on leave and all are rallying behind his recovery.

“He just really takes pride in his work. He treats the school like it’s his home,” she said.

Robin Sellers, a seventh-grade math teacher at the school who organized today’s events, said Lesko worked hard and put kids first every school year. She said teachers brainstormed ideas for today’s fundraiser, which she hopes Lesko will be able to attend.

“It’s a way to give back and let him know we’re thinking of him,” she said.

Sylvia Lesko said she wants to give “a huge, huge thank you” to everyone at the school.

“The school is a family. I don’t think we could have made it through without their support,” she said.


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