Life Before Oyster River: A Profile on ORHS Head Custodian Marek Filip

Before Marek Filip moved to New Hampshire, he had retired from professional ski jumping, served in the Czech military, and had a small shop of 11 motorcycles in the back of his house where he was born and raised in Liberec, Czech Republic. 

As ORHS Head Custodian, Filip is a highly respected and an integral part of the ORHS community, who already had a lifetime of experiences in the Czech Republic, formally known as Czechoslovakia, before coming to Oyster River.

He began ski jumping in school in 1984, when he was 11, and did it for 10 years. He was a professional ski jumper in his home country throughout high school and traveled within Europe to nearby countries such as Germany, Poland, and Norway for ski jumping. 

As a young child, his motivation to start ski jumping came from his step-father. “My step-dad was a ski jumper. Since I was a little kid I was watching him on TV. My step-dad was on the national team, and he is still in some of the books on the history of ski jumping […] He was my inspiration,” said Filip. 

Filip (far right) removing his skis

At the time, there was a set of 6 of the biggest ski jumps in the world, what Filip described as the 6 “giants.” When one of them was built in his country, his step-father was the second person to jump it. “The last time I was in Europe, we visited a museum, and my step-dad had donated some of my stuff and his stuff to the ski jumping museum. When we were visiting, there were young ski jumpers walking with their coach, and the person in the museum introduced my step-dad to them as a ski jumping legend because he was the second one to jump off that giant,” shared Filip.

Inspired by his step-father’s success, Filip went to a special part of the school for skiers, because the athletes were spending a lot of time in the mountains, and travelling to matches. His school, called ZS Jestedska, was divided into two parts: one for skiers and one for regular students. “We spent a lot of time in the mountains training and getting in shape. So, we had to do a lot of studying on our own and when we were in the school, we had to work hard and catch up to regular high school students.” 

He started at that school when he was 11, and graduated at age 15. At his high school, “my only option was to study Russian, so I studied Russian for 2 years, which was mandatory for me. After 1989, when my country had a revolution, and was going from communism to capitalism, they changed the rules in schools. You were able to pick from German or English, so I studied 3 years of German, and 1 year of English.” Although Filip studied Russian in high school and German in college, he spoke Czech primarily. 

During this revolution, Filip was a senior in high school, preparing for college. Filip described the 1989 revolution, and said, “it was a scary time because there were college students walking through the streets and protesting, and there were riots. There were things that happened between students, the military, and the police, with people getting hurt.”

Once Filip was old enough to go to college, getting a degree became his top priority. He attended a state school in the Czech Republic, and focused on hotel management and culinary arts. He chose these areas of study because, “With the ski team I spent a lot of time traveling and staying in hotels. I love mountains and the idea of one day owning a small hotel with a restaurant in the mountains. Another reason is that I like food and cooking.” 

He began to jump less because of college. He explained that it was difficult to practice with his schedule, and he did not have much time for it. “I wasn’t getting enough practice so I was not doing so well during the season one year. I started doing practices with my dad, and he ended up being my coach. When I got in good shape, and everything started working out, I got in a ski jumping accident,” said Filip. 

He ended up in the hospital after the accident, and his mother was reluctant to let him ever do it again. He still went back, but “[ski jumping] was never the same […] There was not enough time or finances.”

Once he finished college, he realized he had to work to pay the bills. Filip worked in restaurants and got a full time job as a cook. He then got a letter in 1995 that he had to serve in the Czech military, and explained that was pretty much the end of competitive ski jumping for him personally. 

“Back when it was mandatory, anybody who was 18 years and older had to join and serve. It was mandatory service for 2 years,” said Filip. He continued on to say, “when I was [in the military] it was okay, I didn’t mind it. You have to listen to what they say and even if you didn’t like it, you had to do it. So, sometimes that was not as much fun.”

Filip during his time in the Czech military

Filip was stationed at a base in the mountains near his hometown. That base he was at was called DUKLA. Liberec had two bases, “one large base was downtown of the city and the second smaller base was located in the city also, but close to the bottom of the mountains. I was stationed on the smaller base,” he said.  Because of the proximity to the mountains, skiing remained prevalent in his life, even if he was not competing,  while he was in the service. “This base was very sports oriented. Pretty much every person I know who was in that base was somehow related to skiing,” he said.

He stayed connected to ski jumping while in the service by traveling with the national team. He was not a member of the national team because he was in the service, but supervised it for about a year. Eventually, due to finances, he was no longer able to travel with the team. Only a select few athletes traveled, due to lack of funding. 

After his time in the military, in 2002, Filip moved from the Czech Republic to the United States when he was 25, which was not easy for him. “[Moving from Europe to here] was tough. Obviously, I had it easier than other people because I had my dad over here, so I had some kind of support, so that was the easy part. But it still was financially a big strain because, as I said before, I love motorcycles, and at one point I had a small little shop in the back of the house where I grew up and I was building motorcycles. I used to own 11 motorcycles. I pretty much had to sell everything to keep money, so I could survive and make it until I got all of my paperwork squared away over here. All that takes time, so the financial part was the toughest,” he said. 

He came to New Hampshire from Czech to be with his dad, who moved to the US because of the Czech government. After receiving all of his paperwork, he started looking for a job. His first job was working as a bouncer in one of the bars in Portsmouth. After that, he painted houses, did some carpentry work, and then applied for a job as a custodian at Oyster River in 2003. Living in Durham with his wife at the time, Oyster River was a perfect fit for him due to the proximity to his house. Filip worked for two years as a custodian at ORHS, then in 2005 became Head Custodian for Mast Way for two years, and then he got promoted to be Head Custodian at ORHS in 2007, where he is today. “I love to learn new things so it is an opportunity to work in a great place, with lots of interesting people, as I can learn a lot about them and local culture,” said Filip. 

In the ORCSD, Filip is highly regarded and respected by many. Multiple people spoke to his work ethic and unwavering devotion. As head custodian, “he does everything from daily regular things like keeping the building clean and safe. Anything that is set up for students or faculty, he’s been involved with. Even with the town, like voting, and athletic events, the custodians are involved with all of that, and he’s behind the scenes with everything. A lot of times he’s integral in making it happen,” Suzanne Filippone, ORHS Principal shared. 

Filip leads a team of 7 other individuals that report to him for daily assignments and activities. He also manages scheduling, and events at the high school during and after school. “People like him have a natural ability to lead and take a lot of things thrown at them at one time and not flip out. He has a patience to him that is very valuable and appropriate,” said Jim Rozycki, ORCSD Facilities Director. 

Along with all the work he does for our ORHS community, Filip also runs a small construction business, and does projects like building additions and garages, which is one more thing to balance in his busy life.

Nate Fisk, who worked under Filip for four years and is now Head Custodian at ORMS, also spoke highly of Filip. “He’s a hard worker. He’s all about work. He’s an all around good guy; he’ll do anything for you in the drop of a dime. He’s very easy going. He’s anything that you could want in a supervisor.” 

Filippone agreed with Fisk’s sentiments, and said, “his work ethic definitely [stands out to me]. He really cares. He cares about the kids, he cares about the school, and that stands out also.”

Filip has had many experiences throughout his life that have made him the person and leader he is today. He is an integral part of the community who has made an impact on many people throughout his life. Filippone said, “when you said that you wanted to interview me about Marek, I just had this big smile on my face. Hearing that made me really happy and excited because I think that he really deserves more recognition, and the custodians deserve more recognition than they typically get […] We are all really, really lucky to have him at the high school.” 

Images courtesy of Marek Filip