FOREST LAWN — About 30 Keppel Elementary School teachers, parents and students remembered their school custodian as a friend during his funeral Saturday at Forest Lawn Memorial Park.
Norman Ramos, 61, was found dead in his truck July 25. Los Angeles County coroner's officials said the cause of death continues to be investigated, but no foul play is suspected.
In more than 18 months at Keppel, Ramos touched the lives of many of Keppel's 860 students, Principal Mary Mason said.
"He worked so hard for us, and always with that smile and he would say, 'Don't worry, I will take care of it; you can count on me,' and we always could," she said in her eulogy. "Way more than his fantastic work ethic was Norman as a person — this is the Norman who changed our lives and made us better people for having known him."
In a ceremony that featured video presentations, songs and spanned Southern California and the Philippines, Ramos was remembered for transcending the job description for custodians, his Keppel friends and colleagues said.
"He's the first person I've ever had who wasn't a teacher or an assistant… who could educate me about something other than clean up your soup, or clean up after yourself," said Gabi Glassen, who was a fifth-grader at Keppel last year. "He inspired us."
He ran the Los Angeles Marathon eight times, was a nature enthusiast, and always treated everyone with respect and compassion, which helped earn him an award from the Glendale Unified Board of Education last spring, friends said.
Ramos worked the day shift, but was a jack of all trades, Keppel staff said. He'd spend days off getting students excited about solar energy, or attending workshops on the subject so he could help teachers, they said.
Without Ramos, there likely would have been no student-run Earth Club, said Sage Claycomb, a classmate of Gabi's.
"It wouldn't have gotten done without Norm," she said. "He would always make time for students."
Marianne Gazzilli, a Keppel teacher who retired last year, remembered how remorseful students were after they had made a mess after a picnic toward the end of the school year.
"The kids respected him," she said. "He told them, 'Just be mindful next time.' He's a wonderful man."
The support from Keppel took the family by surprise, said Joyce Geronca. Ramos's sister.
"This is a side of him that blows me away," she said. "It's very touching, and we're very proud of him and what he accomplished."
About one week before his death, he e-mailed April Faieta, a Keppel teacher and his partner in the Earth Club, an update from a weeklong solar institute in Northern California. He was testing solar ovens, lunch boxes and had plans for an alternative energy correspondence network where teachers and staff could share and develop lesson plans. The e-mail was included in the ceremony program.
"He wanted [students] to have an advantage in science," Faieta said. "He'd tell me, 'After all, they are our future.'"
Keppel staff presented the family with a book of the school's memories, and said a campus dedication ceremony would be held this fall.
"We thank Norman … for being part of our lives and teaching us through his daily example what really matters, and we are never going to forget," Mason said. "Thank you for sharing him with us."