Friends, family and co-workers gathered to remember one man who touched countless lives and was a fixture at a Clinton elementary school.
"I'm here tonight not to say goodbye. I'm here tonight to say 'see you later Rufus. See you later.'"
Rufus Hammitt worked in the maintenance department at North Clinton Elementary school for years. His sister Nelta Cox knows that kids were his passion.
"He was a very humble guy and a caring person. He always has been. He loved kids," she said.
That love showed each day at work. Rufus was a favorite among his co-workers and the students.
"I have a special needs class and he was so good to my children. Very patient, very loving," said Janice Ramsey.
"He was the heart and soul of our school system... Anything you needed, you could count on Rufus to do it," said school principal Matt Murphy.
Nelta remembers back to her childhood. When she and her seven brothers and sisters fell on tough times, 13-year-old Rufus quit school and worked on a farm to help his family.
We were very fortunate to have had him as a brother and I'm sure they were here at school too," she said.
Last Wednesday, the school lost their long-time friend. Rufus died suddenly from complications following surgery to treat cancer. His death was a blow to the whole school.
"When I told them about him Thursday morning, one of them just cried. He said, 'but I loved him so much,'" said Ramsey.
Tuesday, the North Clinton Elementary School gym was packed with standing room only, filled with those who worked with Rufus or learned from him-- all wanting to remember their friend.
"He just took so much pride in this school. He did a wonderful job. The students and staff members loved him, and he loved them," said Murphy.
Nelta says Rufus would want the school to remember only the good times. His message to the students was the put your education first.
"He's saying 'I'm proud of this school. I'm proud of the faculty and the kids' and he would tell them to go on and get their education and just remember him as a good friend, as Papa, Ruper, Spongebob, whatever they call him."