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THURSDAY, JULY 12, 2007
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Ronnie Thomas
rthomas@decaturdaily.com

Chad, Bettie and Milton Knight clean the break room at the Social Security Office in Decatur.
Daily photo by Gary Cosby Jr.
Chad, Bettie and Milton Knight clean the break room at the Social Security Office in Decatur.

Opening doors with the Knights

Each time a door closes, another one opens for the Milton Knight family of Decatur.

It’s only natural. They’re in the domestic cleaning business. Milton and his wife, Bettie, have tidied up homes, offices and their church for almost three decades.

They met in July 1970 when he opened a door for her at Central Computer Services. They married four months later.

Since they could not work in the same department, she decided to devote her time to raising her daughter, Canitha Thomas, who now teaches physical education and coaches volleyball at Oak Park Middle School. The couple had a son, Chad, in 1972.

Being a stay-at-home mom was an easy challenge. As a senior at old Austinville High School in 1959, she received the highest score in a 50-minute written exam to become Betty Crocker Homemaker of Tomorrow. She has the laminated article, accompanied by her smiling photo, that appeared in The Decatur Daily.

But in 1979, when neighbors gave up jobs cleaning Wes Bryan Village in the mornings and the Social Security Administration office in the afternoons, she seized the chance to get out of the house and increase the family budget, with the children along to help.

Seven years later, when Central Bank, now Compass Bank, moved Central Computer Services to Birmingham, her husband retired. The way she sees it, behind every good woman is a good man.

“He followed me out the door to help me with the houses,” she said. “We’ve been a team ever since.”

Their son, now 34, graduated from Cornerstone Christian School, where he was chaplain of the class. During his senior year, doctors diagnosed him with obsessive compulsive disorder. He is on disability.

“Chad worked in the mail room at The Daily, but after 11 days, they told him he wasn’t fast enough,” she said. “That’s the only job he has had besides working with us.”

And work they do. They cleaned Wes Bryan Village six days a week for 24 years and Littrell Lumber’s mill offices every other Saturday for 17 years. They clean their church, Decatur Baptist, seven days a week, and on the “day of love and good fortune” — 07-07-07 — they marked 15 years.

They are approaching 11 years of twice-weekly cleanings at North American Fire Co. On March 1, they’ll have 29 years cleaning the Social Security office five days a week. “They work hard and always do a great job,” said Greg Roy, Social Security assistant district manager. “Sometimes we almost have to run them out of here.”

At the start of their venture, the Knights spruced up 25 residences, about a house a day, until February 2004, when Decatur Baptist opened its 2,500-seat sanctuary.

“It took the place of all the houses,” Betty Knight said.

When someone told her husband, who will be 75 on Monday, that they must enjoy the work, he replied, “We enjoy eating.”

He likes going at their pace with no one, he said, monitoring them. He concedes, though, that they have to keep a time schedule at the Social Security office but not at Decatur Baptist Church.

“On Sunday afternoons, we go and pick up any papers that might have been dropped during the service, which doesn’t take long. We’re not there long on Saturdays, either. I fill up the baptistery, and that takes about 30 minutes,” he said.

“When I started this, Milton didn’t want me to have a full-time job,” she said. “I don’t consider our jobs full time. With three of us, it doesn’t take that long to get through each facility.

“Several people at church often tell us how they appreciate what we do and how clean everything is. Every good dog needs a pat on the back every once in a while.”

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Ronnie Thomas Ronnie Thomas
DAILY Staff Writer

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