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Ruth Berg was generous and gentle, a hardworking mom who rarely let students at Minnehaha Academy pass her desk without a high-five.

John F. Carlson became a janitor for the love of the school both he and his children once attended.

On Wednesday, the two were mourned by staff and students at the south Minneapolis Christian school after they were killed in a natural gas explosion at the school.

Berg, 47, who was engaged to be married this fall, had worked at the school for 17 years. Carlson, who was 82, had worked there for 14 years, having come out of retirement to do so.

“As our receptionist, [Berg] welcomed everyone with a smile and was always willing to go the extra mile to help our students, families, and staff,” the school wrote about her on its Facebook page. “She will be greatly missed. Please keep Ruth’s family, and our school community, in your prayers.”

Later, it confirmed the death of Carlson, whose body was removed from the rubble about 8 p.m. The school called him "Minnehaha's biggest cheerleader."

During the earlier search for Carlson, his wife, Barbara Carlson, said in a brief telephone interview from her Minneapolis home, “I am not doing well. I haven’t heard from my husband, and I’d like to keep the line free.”

The on-site property manager at the senior living complex where the Carlsons live said the family “appreciates everyone’s concerns and prayers,” but asked that their privacy be respected.

“She received calls today from students wondering if he was at home,” said the manager, who declined to give her name.

Showed ‘love and kindness’

A profile on the school’s Redhawks Online website said Carlson was a 1953 graduate of Minnehaha Academy who also sent his children to the school. He began working there as a custodian in 2003 and made a habit of showing “love and kindness” to students and faculty members by handing out Dairy Queen Dilly Bars.

At one point, the website said, he walked up to a student who had several books open on a desk to say, “Here’s a Dilly bar. Keep going. Do a good job. Get good grades.”

“[I want to teach students] friendliness and a Christian attitude,” Carlson said at the time. “I would want to leave [a mark] on the importance that education has, but also to lead a good life.”

A 2011 yearbook photo shows Carlson, all smiles, crossing the finish line of a 5K race, surrounded by members of the school’s cross-country team.

Berg, too, was well-loved at the school. Keith Kostman, who attended Minnehaha until about a year ago, said she “was an extremely sweet woman. We high-fived each other every time I went past her desk.

Berg’s work area was outside the president’s office, where she fielded incoming calls, the former student said. “She was the voice on the main line if you called.”

“She definitely deserved the happiness her impending marriage would have afforded,” Kostman said. “She will be missed.”

‘We grieve with them’

Sherrie Winkler, Berg’s sister, said in a Facebook post that Berg “spoke of her job and co-workers a lot, and believe me, when I say she loved you to bits and loved her work. May you all find comfort in one another.”

Berg’s sister, who lives in Idaho, wrote, “I would like to thank you all for the kind words and the beautiful pictures. I am trying to hold it together and your words have been a great comfort.”

Jeff Burrington, whose brother Mark is Berg’s fiancé, was part of an emotional group gathered outside the school Wednesday afternoon.

Nearby was Mayor Betsy Hodges, who said after meeting with family members, “There are people who are wondering where their loved ones are. And we grieve with them.”

Harold Futhey, stepfather to the Burrington brothers, said Mark and Ruth were to be married next month in Colorado because “it’s just a beautiful part of the country.”

Futhey said he often saw Berg at family holiday gatherings and described her as a “very nice woman. Very quiet and thoughtful.”

Berg had been married before and was a mother, while this was to be Burrington’s first marriage, he said.

After all this time, “he found the right woman,” Futhey said.

Staff writer Libor Jany contributed to this report.