FHL Custodial Team Nominated for 2014 UW Distinguished Staff Award

By Vikky Dauciunas

The FHL Custodial team, led by Lee Ann Walch and including Barb Ruffner, Elizabeth Farr, Melissa Calohan, Kathy Eltrich, are nominated for the University of Washington (UW) Distinguished Staff Award this year. Since 1997, the UW has been recognizing extraordinary accomplishments with the Distinguished Staff Award. Each year up to five recipients (individuals and/or teams) are selected to receive the annual honor along with $5,000.

From left to right: Barb Ruffner, Elizabeth Farr, Melissa Calohan, Lee Ann Walch, Kathy Eltrich. Photo credit: Kathy Cowell

Those of you who have visited FHL may not recognize any of these cheerful faces, but that’s because they start their day in the wee hours of the morning and clean all of the buildings before the first residents even wake up! They also clean the housing units between visitors. This is quite a feat due to the dozens of buildings, the sheer size of the campus, and the number of visitors that come to the Labs.

“They were really sneaky. I don’t think I ever saw them cleaning anything. I just came back from class and everything was clean.” This is one of the many positive comments about the custodial team at Friday Harbor Laboratories (FHL). This comment came from the anonymous student evaluations, and speaks to the superior behind-the-scenes performance of our custodial team.

FHL consist of over 70 buildings that include dorm rooms, cottages, huts, apartment buildings, teaching labs, research labs, classrooms, and a large dining hall. Hundreds of students, faculty, researchers and scholars visit FHL every year and stay from just a few days to months or more than a year. The busiest time at FHL is during the summer months when we are often at full occupancy. Classes are held at the Labs during Spring, Summer, and Autumn quarters. During the other times of the year, large groups visit FHL for multi-day conferences, field trips and workshops.

The various housing units often need to be cleaned in only a few hours before the next visitor ‘check in’. This is most challenging when large groups (up to 50-60 units) check out and check in on the same day or over a weekend. It’s a nearly impossible job for a team of five!!!! Rhonda Lyons sometimes helps out during these crunch times – thank you Rhonda. Supporting the stealth-like quality of the Custodial Team’s work, the Dining Hall manager Laurie Spaulding said “The dining hall and especially the dining hall bathrooms have been magically cleaned each and every day. It is greatly appreciated by the whole kitchen staff. With all the traffic and events here it is not an easy task. Thank you!”

Interim Director Dr. Billie Swalla had this to say about the team: “They keep our campus scrupulously clean, but they also rearrange classrooms as needed, organize enormous piles of dirty laundry, and subsequently hand out clean sheets to resident scientists every week. Part of their responsibility is to make sure that Maintenance is notified of any problems across campus, so the team multi-tasks and is critical to FHL safety. Each member of the team also maintains a cheerful and helpful attitude to everyone that they meet. They are known to go the extra mile to help out students in need, from giving them a phone number of a local mechanic for their car to directing them to places to buy supplies in town.”

In 2010, FHL’s Maintenance team was also nominated for the UW Distinguished Staff award. That year they won the honor and the cash award. Congratulations Fred Ellis (supervisor), Tom Campbell, George Iliff, Rick McCarthy, Tom Pieples and Jeff Seitz!

The work that the custodial team does makes a big difference to the students, faculty, researchers and staff at FHL. Adam Summers, UW Professor of Biology, wrote this in his letter of nomination: “In one recent instance they made a concrete difference in my own research career. I moved my entire lab space to another lab building, and all was in chaos. In just a couple of days I was due to host the board of a foundation interested in funding my work. I feverishly worked to get the scientific gear in place to impress them, all the while scattering mess and disorder around me. That must have been a marathon weekend session by the custodians, because come Monday morning my lab and office looked spectacular. One of the visitors remarked on entering that this was one of the nicest lab spaces they had ever seen. I am convinced that the extra diligence made a difference in the foundation’s decision to fund my work for two years.“

Scott Schwinge, FHL Administrator, summed it up nicely by saying: “Itʼs an uncommon privilege to write this nomination letter for Distinguished Staff Award for the Custodial Staff at FHL. Of all of FHLʼs various departments, the Custodial Staff is, without question, the most improved team on this campus in recent years.”

Next time you visit FHL and are up early or happen to run into one of the custodians during the day, say “hello.” You’ll discover that they are friendly, helpful, and a great example of UW Distinguished Staff. Congratulations Barb, Elizabeth, Melissa, Lee Ann and Kathy!