PROFILE: Stevie McGinnis is doing more at Vincent Middle High School than what meets the eye

Vincent Middle High School would not be as bright without maintenance technician Stevie McGinnis. When a lightbulb burns out, he’s the person on the ladder replacing it with a new one. He’s also the one cutting the grass on summer evenings, and the one making sure the gym is ready for a home basketball game. He can fix almost anything, and he’s known for that talent (and for his ribs and nine-cheese potato casserole, but more on that later). His knack for keeping things working around the school—and literally keeping the lights on—isn’t why staff members and students admire him the most, though. It’s his infectious laugh, warmth and compassion that truly make the hallways of VMHS so bright, new lightbulbs or not.

McGinnis, 64, maintains the school building and grounds with as much care as he would his own home. Then again, the school is like a second home for him. He knows his alma mater now as well as he knows the web of roads spun through Harpersville, where his family’s roots trace back to the 1850s. McGinnis was a child when the desegregation of schools in the 1960s brought all students together into one elementary school, Vincent Elementary. After graduating from Vincent High in 1973, he joined the U.S. Air Force, and he later made his way back to Alabama, attended community college and became a welder. He went on to work at a shop in Vincent called Shelby Steel for about 27 years before the business closed its doors in 2004.

That’s when McGinnis applied for and landed a job with the Shelby County Board of Education’s maintenance department in Columbiana. It was a natural fit for him. “I always tinkered and fixed on things all my life, he says. “Me and my dad used to do all that stuff.” McGinnis started out as a floater doing different jobs each day. Three months later, he accepted the position of maintenance technician at Valley Intermediate School, a role he enjoyed until a new opportunity arose at VMHS in January 2005.

But in 2009, a major health setback stopped McGinnis in his tracks. He suffered a stroke while cutting the grass at the school and spent the next week at the hospital. As he underwent rehabilitation at home, all he could focus on was returning to work. His doctor was surprised to hear him talk about work so soon after the stroke, but McGinnis was adamant he would return as soon as he could—which ended up being about seven months after the stroke. “I lost my mobility on my left side, but thank God, I’m pretty much back to my whole self now,” he says. “Coming to work is just like me coming to my own house. I guess I’m just programmed to get up and go to work every day.”

It’s not just the work itself that gets McGinnis going in the mornings; it’s the prospect of seeing people he cares about and making a difference in their lives, even if that looks like changing a lightbulb or hanging blinds or cutting grass or solving a plumbing issue. He enjoys working with custodians Al Bradford, Margarita Datcher and Holly Horton to keep the school in good working order during the day. “If it’s something I can’t get to in the daytime, I’ll stay after,” McGinnis says. “If the coaches need me to help them do something, I don’t mind helping them for games.” McGinnis will lend a hand, no matter the issue, often without even being asked.

Lucas Weatherford, head football coach at VMHS, had planned to cut the football field after practice one day. But during practice, he looked up to find McGinnis and his mower moving across the field. “After practice, I walked out and asked him what he was doing,” Weatherford says. “He said he heard me mention my son had a ball game that evening, and he was trying to help me get a head start so I could be finished in time to make it to his game.”

This is just one of many examples of McGinnis putting others before himself, something Weatherford noticed shortly after coming to VMHS in May 2018. “From day one Mr. Steve has been there for me,” he says. “He always goes out of his way to help teachers and students. He has one of the most caring hearts of anyone I’ve ever been around.”

Josh Burcham, a senior at VMHS, echoed these statements about McGinnis. “If you are having a bad day, that’s the man that can cheer you up just with a few jokes and a couple of laughs,” he says. “And the knowledge he’s got from just being a maintenance specialist is awesome. He’s always got something new to teach you. He’s just a great man and friend.”

When he finally clocks out for the day, McGinnis often can be found at choir practice with fellow members of the Unity Male Chorus, a group of about 22 men from local churches who perform every few months to raise money and canned goods for people in need. He also sings with the men’s choir at his church, Evangel Temple Deliverance Center in Vincent, and he likes to cook in his spare time. McGinnis is well-known for his smoked meats—particularly his Boston butts and ribs—and his potato casserole, a dish he touts for its nine different types of cheeses on top. Even when he’s off the clock, though, he offers to look at and try to fix people’s appliances. “If I can’t fix it, I know someone that can, or I tell them they need to get a new one,” he says, chuckling.

McGinnis is fine with the extra calls. Like the ongoing maintenance requests that he fields at the school, these calls keep him moving, meeting people and doing what he loves to do. “It’s challenging some days, but it’s good for me,” he says. “It’s just good to have a job you really like and care about, and the people I work with make my job a whole lot easier. We say this is our house, and I want to make sure it’s taken care of.”