WHEN PHILLY public schools open Sept. 7, it'll be the first time in 61 years that Joe Domenick, 82, has not reported for duty at South Philly's Edward Bok Technical High School.
He retired in June from his job as a stock clerk, once a mandatory position in Philly's vocational schools.
Over six decades, Domenick oversaw the delivery and distribution of Bok's purchases: everything from auto parts, hair clippers, coffeemakers and stacks of lumber to crates of paper, computers, desks, bookcases and textbooks. In neat journals, he meticulously logged their serial numbers and destinations, then tracked their movements throughout the seven-story school at 8th and Mifflin streets.
For backup, he copied all the info onto bricks of blue index cards, bound with rubber bands.
"His records were more accurate than computerized ones. And he had a work ethic you don't see anymore," says former principal Alfonso Sorichetti. "There was nothing he wouldn't do."
And he was always so pleasant, says Marialaina Souders, an assistant principal who retired with Joe.
"Everyone loves Joe," she says.
I'd heard that Domenick was one of those quirky South Philly characters, the kind with great stories he loves to repeat. So I sat down with him this week at Bok, where he was visiting, and asked him to share a few.
"Oh, babe," he said, pushing a hand through his thick white hair. "I could write a book."
* "I used to drive Dr. Fee to meetings downtown. He was the principal back in 1951 or 1952. One day, he says, 'Joe, stop at Oliver Bair' - the funeral parlor at 18th and Chestnut. I park and he says, 'Come in with me.' He goes up to a family, shakes their hand, he says, 'I'm sorry for your loss.' We stand at the casket. Turns out, he didn't even know the family! We went to seven viewings that same day! I guess he just felt like respecting the dead."
* "I was offered a job at the Post Office, but I took the job at Bok. It gave me summers off. My uncle owned the 500 Club in Atlantic City. I met Frank Sinatra, Jimmy Durante - all those guys! That all stopped when I got married, though. It's a shame."
* "I worked a second job for 50 years. I was at the school from 7 to 3:30, then I'd come home and eat something, then work at my brother's gas station until 11. I worked seven days a week. Who does that anymore? But I had two sons. You do what you gotta do."
* "My wife left me after 30 years, for a scumbag. I had to pay her alimony! Guess what? She's calling me again. She wants to get together. You know why? Her boyfriend died! My doctor said, 'Joe, if you take her back, I'm gonna drive you to Friends Hospital and have you committed.' "
* "My son passed when he was 25. The cops found his body under the Platt Bridge. They said he jumped. I say he was pushed. I was getting ready for work when I found out. I didn't go in. Other than that, I only missed 11 days my whole job. Seven days were for funerals. Four were days when I didn't feel like working."
* "Two girls got into a fight at school. One girl bit off the other girl's finger! Someone put it in a bag and said, 'Joe, take this to the hospital!' I'm driving like crazy with this girl's finger in a bag."
* "One day this kid said, 'Mr. D, you ever seen "The Wizard of Oz"? I need a "Wizard of Oz" hat.' I say, 'You mean a funnel? Like on the Tin Man?' He was a senior auto-body student and he didn't know the right name for a funnel."
* "I never should've retired. I don't know what I'm gonna do with myself. My doctor says my health is better than his. The only thing wrong is I'm blind in my left eye. I lost my sight when I broke up a fight when I was a kid. It never stopped me from driving. All my years, I never got one ticket."