At Work — Mary Zieber

Valerie Royzman

Mary Zieber, 72, is a custodian at Kent State University. She works on the third and fourth floors of Franklin Hall, which houses the School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Zieber has been working at the university for 15 years.

I started on third shift, and I worked in the math building, and then from there, I got moved to research and foundation. They were two small buildings. I was given those two to do by myself. And from there, I came to day shift, and I was at Merrill Hall for, I believe, two years. When Franklin Hall opened up from being refurbished, I was one of the three original custodial people put in here. So I’ve been (in Franklin Hall) going on 12 years.

Right before that, I was lucky enough that I could stay home and didn’t have to work, and I took care of my mother the last nine years of her life. I’m widowed.

My husband — he battled cancer for seven years. He was a World War II veteran from the Air Force. When he was diagnosed with cancer, he said, “No chemo. I’m not doing that.” He said, “Whatever quality of life I have, I’ll take it.” He started with colon cancer, and then it went to prostate cancer. At the end, the prostate cancer — although he did do some treatment, not chemo, but a different treatment — it metastasized, went up his spine. He had a mass at the base of his neck, and it was paralyzing him. So he went real quick. (Lips quiver, eyes fill with tears.) Sorry. For 30 years we were together. We were a good match. … I worked full time and doctored him. (Laughs.) My shift is nice because I get off at 12:30. … I scheduled all of his appointments for when I got off of work, so then I didn’t have to take sick time or vacation time.

Pixie is Zieber’s 9-year-old miniature pinscher. She also has a 12-year-old white cat named Fluffy.

I get up at 2 (a.m.), put Pixie outside, start the coffee, let her back in and then I get ready for work. I leave the house about 3:10 (a.m.) because I’ve always been a person who I want to be where I’m going early. The first thing I do is dust and mop the third floor, and then I fill my bathroom cart and go up to fourth floor, and I dust and mop it. I clean my classrooms, tidy ‘em up, wash the whiteboards and do both restrooms. If there’s messes on the carpet, I run the sweeper. Then I come back down to third, fully trash third floor and I do classrooms as I come down the hallway. I start at the lecture hall, go to (Room) 339 and I work my way down the hall, so this (faculty break room) is my last swing when I come down here. That way, I’m not backtracking. I hate that. (Laughs.) Some people do that, and it just drives me crazy. We have a 15-minute break at 6 (a.m.). I don’t always take that because in the winter, when we have snow and stuff, it’s really hard to get everything done before classes start. You have to hall machine the halls, and there’s a lot more work. I don’t always take my 15 at 6 (a.m.), but then we’re supposed to have our lunch break at 8 (a.m.). I get another 15-minute break at 10:30 (a.m.), and I may or may not take that one. I might just save it and that’s part of my sitting down when I go downstairs at the end of the day.

Doing things when we don’t have the right equipment or broken equipment — it’s very challenging. … Last winter, we did not have a working hall machine for the majority of the winter, so we had to hand mop every floor. That’s a trip. (Laughs.)

I figure, at my age, who’s gonna hire me? So I just stay here, and hopefully I can retire pretty soon. I’m waiting to see … the time of the year when we have to sign up for our new benefits. There’s been a lot of change in our health care, so I’m waiting to see. They had a meeting yesterday (Sept.  27), … but they’ve always had an open thing everybody could go to when you’re here working. This year, … it was after we got off work. I mean, some people have second jobs. How can they attend a meeting? I had a vet appointment for my dog, so I couldn’t go. I sent the guy … an email and said, “Why don’t you have something scheduled when first shift is here? It’s always been like that.” I haven’t heard from him, so, we’ll see.

The people (in Franklin Hall) — they make you feel like family. And when my husband passed, the building was fabulous. They brought food, brought all kinds of stuff. They were just there, you know? I like ‘em all. Dave (Dave Foster, an assistant professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication) has been to our house to eat several times. He babysat Pixie for us one time when we went to St. Louis. He calls her “Princess.” (Laughs.) I like Chance (Chance York, an assistant professor in JMC) real well and talk to him all the time. You know, I like everybody.

I feel the people who do this work hard. Sometimes, I wonder what some young people are thinking when they drop gum on the floor and they don’t pick it up. They leave it there for people to walk in and squish it into the carpet, and I’m cleaning it up. Or when you walk down to the lobby, and I see them with their winter boots up on the furniture. I just want to say, “Would you do that at your mom’s house?” (Laughs.) You have to be nice. I have, on occasion, said, “Excuse me, but please don’t sit on our tables,” and I do it nicely. … They might go right back up when I leave, but I tried.

You know, I thought of retiring, and had I not lost my husband, I may have retired already. It’s for my sanity, I think. This gives me a place to go, people to talk to, keeps me physically active. When I went for my yearly checkup, my doctor said, “Thinking of retiring?” and I said, “No, why? Should I be?” He said, “No, your heart,” — because I had a heart attack a few years ago — “You’re doing really great. Whatever you’re doing, keep doing it.” He said, “I think it’s good for your mind and your body to keep as active as you are.” So, I said, “OK.” (Smiles.)

Valerie Royzman is the features editor. Contact her at [email protected].