Whether they are walkers, talkers, members of the church or its staff, just about everyone who has darkened any of the many doors at First Christian more than a couple of times has come to know and love Leon Gooch. After 30 years as custodian at the large, sprawling Lexington Road church, he's become as much a fixture as the towering steeple.
And Gooch, 73, doesn't mind the many compliments he gets on his work or warm words he receives for being a friend to parishioners and walking track pedestrians alike.
"I love it here," he says. "The people on staff are nice to me, and they also realize I know what is supposed to be done and they let me do it."
Gooch's job title calls for multiple tasks, including cleaning, vacuuming and dusting, and his territory encompasses a lot of space, including the sanctuary, offices, Sunday school classrooms, bathrooms, carpets and floors and also the Christian Life Center.
But he goes beyond the call of duties on his job description. He also handles many of the electrical and plumbing issues that crop up in the large facility.
"God gave me the talent to be able to fix lights and also do some minor repairs on bathroom facilities," he says. "What I can't fix, we'll get somebody from the outside to handle. But in all honesty, there's not much I can't fix."
In addition to his reputation as a Mr. Fix It, Gooch also is the church's unofficial greeter.
"All the walkers that come in here call me the 'greeter,'" he says. "That's because I like to welcome everybody to the church, and that includes the walkers. When I tell people that I'm called the 'greeter,' some folks think I work at Wal-Mart as one of those senior citizen greeters. But I do all my greeting right here at this church."
While it may seem that Gooch has been at First Christian since it was founded, Gooch actually had a busy life before being hired there. That life began in the Turnersville community of Lincoln County where he was one of six children of the late Sam and Ethel Gooch. His father worked for the railroad and his mother took care of him, his siblings and their father.
After graduating from the all-black high school in Stanford, he held a series of different jobs, including working as a cook at a restaurant and at the old Kentucky State Hospital near Danville. He then worked as a custodian at Danville High School, where he witnessed integration in the mid-1960s.
"When I grew up in Turnersville, all of us, black and white, worked and lived together and us kid played together though we did go to separate schools," he says. "Blacks and whites seemed to get along and there didn't seem to be many problems, but it was a good thing that integration happened. Kids should study together as well as play together."
After 17 years at DHS, Gooch took his custodian experience and skills out Lexington Road to First Christian, where he has been for the last three decades.
He also worked a part-time job at Preston-Pruitt Funeral Home for 42 years, handling a variety of duties, from arranging chairs to helping arrange funerals.
In the meantime, he has been able to squeeze in time for his wife of 33 years, Gladys Bowman Gooch, and their five now-grown children, Keith, Richard, Steve, Vivian and Henrietta.
In his time off, Gooch partakes in a hobby that resembles his day job.
"I like to fix lawn mowers," he says. "I really enjoy repairing things, at church and at home. I don't have the patience for fishing or normal hobbies."
Gooch doesn't plan to spend full time on his hobbies any time soon.
No plans for retirement
"I don't have any plans right now for retirement," he says.
"I know it will be time to leave when I'm not able to do what I do. But I'm still able and I want to keep doing it."
When he finally stops doing his job, Gooch believes he will be missed.
"I don't know what they will do when I leave," he says. "I've been here so long and I know how to do so much."
But he says he will miss all the staff, parishioners and walkers more than they will miss him.
"My love for all these folks is keeping me here as much, maybe even more, than my love for my job," he says. "And the fact they love me means a lot."
And that shared love and appreciation was on display in the hallway leading to the walking track. Longtime church member and morning walker Margie Hazelrigg was leaving the track when she came up to Gooch and embraced him.
"This church couldn't function without Leon," Hazelrigg says.
"We love him. We wouldn't know what to do without him."