APPLETON, Wis. (WFRV) – Chemist, veteran, author, poet, and high school greeter all describe 90-year-old Jerry Hein. The main objective of only one of those jobs is to make people smile.
“People with smiles and people with good greetings. I couldn’t ask for anything better,” the Appleton West High School greeter said.
The Korean War veteran graduated from Appleton West himself in 1951 and has been volunteering as a greeter three days a week for the last 12 years.
“Some of them have big smiles on their faces; others look like they’ve just crawled out of bed and wish they hadn’t,” he said.
Decades ago, Hein was in the same boat himself. He felt eczema scars, and his small build made him an outcast.
“I was a skinny, scrawny kid. And some of the bigger kids liked to beat on me,” he said. “I was a class mouse. I had no friends, no acquaintances. I was a loner. I felt very much alone. I think it was self-inflicted. I thought people hated me because I hated myself.”
72 years later, there is no place that Hein would rather be. He wakes up at 5 a.m. without an alarm to come volunteer at the school.
“Been doing it ever since. And enjoying every minute of it,” he said. “I love the place, and I love the people, and I love the things I see here. The fact that I’m 90 years old and still able to do it makes it even better.”
Hein makes the day even better for students and staff as he says good morning to everyone he possibly can.
“Jerry is the kindest, sweetest, most caring person ever,” senior Mallory Nelson said. “No matter how I start my morning, no matter how I finish my day here if I’m stressed out or upset or have something else going on, I know I’ll always walk out of the building with a smile.”
Senior Jayln Spoke said that it would not be Appleton West without Hein.
“He really just makes Appleton West, Appleton West,” she said. “He’s just such a sweet person, I hope to be like that kind of person in somebody’s life.”
Spoke and Nelson say they are far from the only ones who are fans of Hein’s.
“In classes, you’ll hear random stories about him because he’s so well known and so well loved in the building,” Nelson said.
Hein said that of the hundreds of students, he values their individual personalities and styles the most.
“The individuality, the uniqueness of the high schoolers,” he said. “Each one is expressing their own individuality, and I like that. Because I like to think that I was an individual too.”
In addition to the positive energy in the school, Hein also credits his wife for his motivation always to do more.
“She was the best thing that happened to me 65 years ago and still is today,” he said. “That’s what keeps me going.”
The best part of Hein’s volunteering is “the return greetings from so many of these people.”
“It’s like home. It is my home.”