MINNEAPOLIS - With the flag flying at half staff, hundreds came to a private memorial service held inside the building John Carlson considered a home.

"It was a good fit for him. He just loved being there," said family friend Ken Bjorlin. "He was just always happy. Always greet you with a happy face."

Friends say Carlson, after retiring as a bus driver, took a job as a custodian at Minnehaha Academy to be closer to the place and the people he loved.

"He didn't have to be here. He didn't have to work. But he just loved to be with the kids," said Dean Erickson, who was principal at Minnehaha Academy for 25 years. He will never forget Carlson's dedication to the students.

"He came to all their ball games. My son played baseball, and he was sitting there at all the baseball games. He was just a great guy. He just loved this place," Erickson said.

He says Carlson, an alumnus from the class of '53, always looked forward to fall.

"He was so excited about the start of the school year. He was shining up the desks and making sure they were in perfect rows. It really meant a lot to him," Erickson said.

That's why Carlson was inside the North Campus last Wednesday when a gas leak led to an explosion and a building collapse that took his life.

At 82 years old, Carlson's life was long and full of happiness. But his sudden and tragic death leaves this tight community with a feeling it was too soon.

"Yes, the man was 82, but he was 42 in his heart, you know? So he's the last guy you'd think you'd be going to a memorial service for today," Erickson said.