Clean sweep

By Karen Weldon

A Turkish coffee break in a Kirk dorm room may not be the first thing that comes to mind when one thinks of the daily lives of the custodial staff, but for Barb Olson, interactions like this are what has kept her on the Macalester custodial staff for 28 years. For several of Macalester’s 44 custodial staff members, the Macalester community and the benefits of the custodial job have led them to enjoy their work. “The people here are really great. The staff is really nice and the students are really a great group of kids,” Olson said, as she explained how she was frequently invited over for coffee by one of the Turkish residents in Kirk. Mark Benoit, a custodian who has worked at Macalester since 1988, also enjoys getting to know the students. “It’s fun to talk with students from different areas like Africa and China and learn about their culture,” Benoit said. Dave Edens, who was on active duty in the army before he started working at Macalester, agrees with his coworkers. “The students are really friendly and willing to help people. I’m shocked that it is this nice here,” Edens said. For Edens, the friendly environment was simply an added bonus. The main draw at Macalester was the willingness of the institution to accommodate his needs as a student and provide competitive wages. “I just purchased a house, and Macalester helped me do that. I couldn’t have done it without working here,” Edens said. Although he looked at custodial jobs at the Mall of America, the pay was much lower. Additionally, Macalester generally encourages its staff to continue their education and provides him with a schedule that allowed him to take classes during the early half of the day. Despite these positive aspects, custodial work also comes with its challenges. Karen Porras, the custodial shift supervisor, used to work the night shift before starting in her current daytime position. “Overnights are the worst shift,” Porras said, explaining such work is known to shave years off an individual’s life. She would finish work exhausted. While Edens has enjoyed working for students overall, he said he occasionally feels looked down upon by some of the students. “Sometimes students look at you funny or don’t notice you at all,” Edens said. Edens said that some of his coworkers have experienced frequent problems with unfriendly students. As an outgoing, talkative person himself, he attributes these bad relations largely to the way that some staff members fail to show interest or engage with students. For most, however, the worst aspect of the job is cleaning up after weekend drinking. Benoit, Olson and several other staff members agree that puke calls and other disgusting messes made by students is the worst part of the job. “I can’t think of too many cons except the weekend drinking,” Edens said. Custodial Services Manager Ralph Williamson said, for some, Macalester is not the right fit, and they leave soon after coming. Nonetheless, “staff overall are generally pretty satisfied. We’ve had some people who’ve been here for 35 years,” Williamson said. For many of the staff, the long-term benefits outweigh the downsides of the position. Williamson said the retention rate for the staff is fairly high. Olson can definitely attest to being satisfied with her position. Among her stories of getting to know students, she recalls a time several years ago when she got to know the students who lived in the Veggie Co-op. As a vegetarian herself and a dog lover, she got along well with the students, and during the holidays, they gave the ASPCA a $100 gift card in her name. “I thought it was really special that they did that. I’ll remember that for a long time,” Olson said. refresh –>