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Human Resources: Dan Ziparo

Lindsey Kilbride / WJCT

The hallways of Chaffee Trail elementary are lined with colorful trim. The green hall leads to the kindergartners, the blue hall leads to the fourth graders and a trip down the hallway with a bright mustang mural leads to the school’s book room, where a man will be seen stacking hard-covers and filling orders.

While managers and executives may have the most coveted titles, there are people largely unseen in almost every organization. They are wholly dedicated to their work without always receiving the recognition or distinction. In our Human Resources series we'll uncover the stories of these selfless individuals. Today we meet Dan Ziparo.

Dan Ziparo is a volunteer at Chaffee Trail Elementary. He’s known as Mr. Dan to teachers and students. As a retired Navy Master Chief, Ziparo said he was looking for another way to serve his community.

“I retired when I was 58, about 10 years ago," Ziparo said. "[I was] looking to for something to do, so I came over here and interviewed with Mrs. Doyle, asked her if she had anything I could do over here and of course her eyes lit up.”

Chaffee Trail's principal, Casie Doyle, gave Ziparo the task of organizing the school’s book room or as the staff has playfully named it, Mr. Dan’s office. But Ziparo soon began acting as a second librarian, the leader of a tutoring classes and a teacher of character lessons.

Although he isn’t paid a dime, Ziparo has returned to the school every week for about four years. This year he has volunteered more than 500 hours. He said that he loves watching children learn.

“They’re just so much fun to work with and they’re like little sponges," Ziparo said. "I get more out of it than they do I’m sure because it’s just a riot to watch them when it clicks in their mind, and you have to be here to see it."

Principal Doyle says Ziparo is unlike any volunteer and his intuition with the kids allows them to open up and learn.

“Mr. Dan takes it a step further and offers his heart to the children,” Doyle said.

Even students who initially resisted extra tutoring have come to depend on it. Doyle said during the last school year Ziparo's tutoring was canceled for a week and the students were not happy. One student in particular told Doyle that she looked forward to seeing Mr. Dan for tutoring.

"That means to me that it’s more than about the math for that student," Doyle said. "It’s about knowing someone’s going to be there and be consistent in their life."

Ziparo doesn’t only provide support for students, he also provides it for the teachers. Jessica Marshall teaches fourth graders at Chaffee Trail. She said Ziparo’s wisdom and heart has guided her through tough times.

"I’ve had problems or issues that I’ve just come to him with and he just talks to you and makes you feel just good inside," Marshall said.

"He’s the kindest most gentle-souled person, and the funny thing about Mr. Dan is he thanks us for being there. He thanks us for welcoming him to our school, and it just goes to show that he’s truly the one of the best people I’ve ever met."

Marshall said one of the kindest things Ziparo has done was purchase books off of her book fair wish list.

"I was shocked, I was stunned," Marshall said. "[He] and his wife had purchased the books for me out of their own money. I get emotional just thinking about it. He does it for not just me, he does it for all the teachers."

Ziparo said it’s the least he could do for the great teachers at the school

"It’s just a way of giving back," Ziparo said. "Books are important, that’s how the kids learn. If the teachers need them, I don’t have a problem getting them for them."

Principal Doyle said she can’t imagine not having Ziparo at the school.

"I can tell you this, there would not be a mentoring program without Mr. Dan because he kind of leads the charge on that," Doyle said. "It would be difficult. He would be impossible to replace."

It doesn’t look like he’s going anywhere. Ziparo said he believes in paying it forward. He said many people helped him out over the years and now that he’s in a position to give back, he believes that’s what he should be doing with his life.

You can follow Lindsey Kilbride on Twitter@LindsKilbride

Lindsey Kilbride was WJCT's special projects producer until Aug. 28, 2020. She reported, hosted and produced podcasts like Odd Ball, for which she was honored with a statewide award from the Associated Press, as well as What It's Like. She also produced VOIDCAST, hosted by Void magazine's Matt Shaw, and the ADAPT podcast, hosted by WJCT's Brendan Rivers.