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LAKELAND, Fla. (AP) — Warren Bellamy dedicated more than a decade of his life to become a teacher, but when he finally graduated from the University of South Florida, mopping floors proved to be more lucrative than teaching.
Now, four years after graduating, Warren Bellamy is battling six different cancers, and will be transferred soon to Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa.
But the man who drives the beat-up, red, pickup isn't beat quite yet, although he does plan, a little reluctantly, to retire soon.
Bellamy, who turned 55 on Nov. 1, has been the janitor at Jewett School of the Arts since he was 17, when he had to work to support his six siblings, said his wife, Jessica Bellamy, with whom he has two children.
Then he got a second custodial job at New Bethel Baptist Church in Winter Haven, where he is now a deacon, to make ends meet.
He considers it his role in life.
"I understand I had a job to do some kind of way," he recently said from his room at Lakeland Regional Medical Center, where he was admitted Sept. 15.
But after 20 plus years, he decided to take a chance, inspired by an old high school football coach, Calvin Triplett, to go to college and become a teacher.
"He always taught us to be the best we could be regardless of our situation. So I decided to take a challenge and see what I could do. I ended up being a better person for it," he said.
Taking classes meant long days for Bellamy. After work at Jewett was done, he would have about two hours to get to class, which lasted until 10 p.m. four days a week. He had to report back to work at 6 a.m. And there was time needed to study.
He would often talk with teachers at Jewett about his studies, especially now-retired art teacher Mary Ellen Porter.
"We had deep conversations. And I thought, 'I'm really getting to know this man, who is a wonderful, deep person,'?" Porter said.
To the delight of the teachers and administration at Jewett, when he finally graduated he went into teaching — for less than a week.
At orientation, Bellamy discovered he would lose more than he would gain by becoming a teacher.
Between his salary at Jewett and his job at New Bethel, plus occasional side projects helping people mow their lawns and other things, Bellamy made more than the $35,000 starting salary for teachers in 2009.
He currently makes $22,194 as a veteran custodian, according to The Ledger's salary database.
Bellamy said he decided he would have more time to love the children as a janitor.
"It was more beneficial I thought than teaching. Because you can teach the children cleanliness," he said.
"I do what I (have) to do. They take care of teaching the kids, and I take care of loving them. I have more time to love them if I'm only sweeping and mopping and cleaning," he told his wife when he made the decision to go back to custodian work.
Love them he has. Generations of them.
"He's touched so many lives. Like kids remember teachers, they remember Warren," Porter said.
Joy Currier, a former teacher at Jewett, said Bellamy encouraged her son when he was going through bad years in school, and now he is a successful chef.
Another student, who is now teaching Bellamy's daughter, recognized his red truck at school one day, and remembered his encouragement when she was in school at Jewett.
She told Jessica Bellamy that Bellamy's encouragement helped motivate her to work harder in school.
"They were like my babies," Bellamy said. "You had to understand each one's personality and thoughts. Sometimes you want to hit them upside the head, but you couldn't do it. You had to discipline yourself."
Bellamy had an effect on the teaching staff, as well.
Lynnette Carmody said he would always change the clocks when the time changed because of daylight saving time, and was always willing to open the school for teachers on the weekend.
"He spoiled us," she said.
"Warren has always been Warren, very even-keeled and patient. The school has gone through so many changes. But Warren is just steady. You can always depend on Warren," Porter said.
Another former teacher, Debbie Price, said the pride Bellamy took in the school was inspiring to see.
Although he never became a teacher like he set out to do, Bellamy said he is pleased with how his life turned out.
"Our society as a whole is deteriorating. If I can make one child a better child, I've accomplished something in my life."
Doctors give Bellamy six months to a year to live, but the true test of his health is in the status of his red Ford Ranger.
When the truck broke down in July, Warren immediately had to be admitted for heart complications, Jessica Bellamy said. When she got it fixed, he was discharged within a day.
When the truck gave out again in September, Bellamy was in the hospital the next day, she said.
However things turn out, Bellamy is inspired by his old school and is not giving up.
"I've seen the school gutted out, changed, replenished, refurbished. Through it all, it still stands. That's what I'm going to do. I'm going to still stand, regardless," he said.
Information from: The Ledger (Lakeland, Fla.), http://www.theledger.com