About this project: ‘In Honor of Work’ is a collection of interviews with a custodian (Mary Zieber), a student assistant at One Stop Student Services (Deshon Terrell), a maintenance repair worker (Donna Craver) and the director of the Washington Program in National Issues (Richard Robyn).
The stories are inspired by Studs Terkel’s 1974 nonfiction book “Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do,” a collective work capturing the everyday work life of lower-class individuals in America. Read an excerpt, “Women at Work,” here.
Associate Professor of journalism Jacqueline Marino and Professional-in-Residence Connie Schultz crafted an assignment for “Feature Writing” students, where they had to mirror Terkel’s idea, only with workers of Kent State. ‘In Honor of Work’ is meant to show Kent State’s workers, quirks and emotions and all, along with the dignity behind their work. The pieces are written completely in the subjects’ voices. These working testimonials are written based on interviews conducted earlier this semester.
Mary Zieber, 72, is a custodian at Kent State University. She cleans the third and fourth floors of Franklin Hall, which houses the School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Zieber has worked 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]
Deshon Terrell, 21, is a student assistant at One Stop Student Services at Kent State. He says he wants to better himself and the people around him. Terrell has been in this position since the start of the this fall.
I had my initial interview about a year ago, but I was going to study abroad in Florence so they held onto all of my stuff until I got back. That was really awesome. I was looking for an on-campus job, some kind of desk job where I could talk to people, something that might help me with what I’ll be doing corporately. I only have two semesters left, including this one. I’m majoring in business management and I have a marketing minor.
So far I’ve really enjoyed the job at the OneStop. I’ve got to meet a lot of cool people like you. You learn a lot of customer service skills working here, but I still get time to myself when we’re not busy. I’ll use that time to do homework or to learn. I’ve learned how to work with a lot of programs like spreadsheets, SharePoint and Outlook. It’s pretty cool learning more stuff at work.
Once I get here, I check our calendars. I usually print them off once I get there to see where I’ll go. So, there’s the first-floor student assistant, which is where I met you, sitting at the front desk. There, I make sure people get signed in correctly, letting people know about wait times. It’s pretty simple. There is also the fifth-floor operations, where we process paperwork and counselors answer phone calls.
My favorite thing about the job is getting to meet and interact with new people daily. Of course, the people coming in have problems, but I enjoy being in a position where I have a chance to help. I don’t necessarily give aid or anything, but I still enjoy what I do. I like all my colleagues. It’s always a very friendly environment. I give a lot of praise to the staff that are working there because they handle things really well. They’re handling people’s important documents, and so I give them a lot of props for that.
I’m currently trying to transition myself into better morning habits. Every day, I’m waking up and running over here because I’m usually running a little behind. I’m trying to get up a little earlier now, around 6 (a.m.), and make it to the Rec or something to get my day started a bit earlier. I started doing that recently, and I haven’t been tired going into work. This is a good stepping stone for me, but I think there is potential to get raises and climb up that chain.
Crystal Smith is a contributor. Contact her at [email protected]
Donna Craver keeps Kent State’s University Library running — from electrical work to repairing machines and everything in between. When asked to describe herself in one sentence, Craver said, “A big pain in the ass.” (Laughs.)
Maintenance repair worker. It means I know a little bit about a lot of things, but not a whole lot about one thing. Unless it’s a car. I know a lot about those. I was the first female graduate of Maplewood vocational in Ravenna (in 1980). That was 11th and 12th grade ‘cause it was a high school program. I studied automotive mechanics.
You never know what you’re coming into every day. Yesterday, I spent four hours inside an air handler. I had it all shut down, and I totally cleaned the inside of it. I fixed one of the lights inside of it and those chilled water coils that I showed you where the air is cooled and dehumidified. Nobody thinks about it unless they’re uncomfortable — what takes place, what makes it happen.
I stay on things. I’m tenacious. If there’s a problem, I don’t drop the ball, and people that drop the ball piss. Me. Off. I take a lot of pride in a job well done. I’m a little bit of a perfectionist, and sometimes I have to dial that back a little bit and say, “This is good enough, leave it alone.”
There’s one person (in the library). I’m making 50 trips up and down the stairs or back and forth across a room. One of the things that I keep bringing up in our job as maintenance people is that we are understaffed, and a lot of times something that should be a two-person job, you’re trying to do it by yourself. And you have to be careful not to compromise your own safety.
I work Monday through Friday, 7 (a.m.) to 3:30 (p.m.), and I’m real happy with that schedule. Most days, I go pick up my kiddo right away from school. She’s in second grade, she’s 7 going on 17. She’s pretty smart. She has two older parents, and we never baby-talked her. We include her in almost all of our family discussions, so she’s always seemed like an old soul. When I show up to pick her up from school, especially when she was in kindergarten and first grade, I show up in my work uniform. All the kids come over and stare at me like, “Whatta you do?” and she says, “She fixes potties.” I’m like, “Hey, I do more than” — I do a lot of that, OK.
Eden. (Her daughter’s name.) It’s a nod to our Hebrew heritage on my wife’s side — Erin. She works at Tiffin University. That’s a private university that’s about two hours west of here on Route 224, but she’s an assistant dean and department chair and a professor. She is also a licensed counselor, and she still sees clients, too. I stole her from a friend. (Laughs.)
I have become so familiar with the sounds of the mechanical rooms. I can walk into the mechanical room and tell something’s up, just by hearing it. I can smell somethin’ and know I’ve got a leak somewhere, yeah. Yeah, I can tell what it is, like (sniffs twice) if I smell condensate, I must have a steam leak somewhere. And there’s the smell that you never wanna smell.” (Laughs.) Here’s the deal. In five years, I really don’t want to be climbing up and down ladders anymore. So I’d like to move into a supervisory position. I’d like to retire from this job. I enjoy it.
Marissa Nichol is a contributor. Contact her at [email protected]
Richard Robyn is the director of the Washington Program in National Issues at Kent State. He shares how he became the director and what the stress of 18 years on the job has taught him.
Having gone into the Peace Corps after graduation, I think, was the initial impetus for me to be thinking about, “Oh my goodness, I’m learning so much outside the classroom. Wow. I’m learning a whole lot of other new things here.”
After the Peace Corps, going to France and living in another culture, a different culture and learning and enjoying that so much … all that helped. Then I came back and did my graduate program. When I finished the Ph.D. here, I started teaching full time for a year, and that’s when the Washington Program opened up.
The first time I went was in 1967? Eight? No, 1969. There was an anti-war demonstration going on and Washington was all this whur, and I thought, “Wow, this is a really interesting city.” Everything was closed down because these huge numbers of protesters were coming to the city. So I didn’t really get to see it or experience it, and then I finally went back again. It’s an unusual city. It took us a little time to warm up to Washington.
The funny story, true story, always, is that after the first year (as director of the Washington Program), I came back here, and I told my friends and the chair of the department, “That’s it. I’m not going to do it anymore.” I made so many mistakes. And then, a couple people talked to me and said, “Are you sure? You know, we need you here. We don’t have anybody else to run this program.”
I think the significant part of stress is, suddenly, you’re faced with something that you’ve never experienced before, or “How do you handle this?” It’s crazy, you know. I never would have predicted that I’d be here 18 years later doing it. It’s not easy for a professor to do this because most of us have family and kids, and you’re focused on research, publication, teaching and raising a family. … That’s hard to do when you are uprooting and going to Washington, D.C., or whatever.
As long as the things were going reasonably well, the university would say, “OK, just kinda continue doing what you’re doing.” Some of the crazy stuff happened early in the program, so I know kind of how the program runs and we have really good students do the program. (Chuckles.) Still want to have fun in Washington, of course, but, you know, they put it in perspective and do a lot of great things in D.C. … that takes a lot of a load off of me.
We have a joke, almost every chair of the department. They’ll see them at the beginning and the end, and the joke that we always talk about is, “What happened to these kids? These kids that were a little bit awkward back at the luncheon, like, ‘Gah, I don’t know what I want to do in life. Gah, I’m excited.’” Then at the end, it’s like, “Hello, Dr. blah blah blah blah blah.” Shake hands. Maybe hand a business card to them and, it’s like, “What?! Who are you?”
All these years of going back again and again and again, you appreciate how much the city has to offer, and there is always something new that I haven’t done that I want to go back and do that now.
Kathryn Monsewicz is a contributor. Contact her at [email protected]