• By Laurel J. Kelly

#FlashbackFriday 1981: Army of cleaners take over after the day is done

November 18, 2016

a 1981 photo of custodian Warren Hess working in the Hematology Lab

This article first appeared in April 1981, in the publication Mayovox.

The invisible Mayo staff

Rarely seen, custodians exert quiet influence on image.

Only a muffled voice drifting through an empty corridor breaks the silence that closing hour has brought to Mayo.

A magazine rests on a couch in the sixth floor waiting room of the Mayo Building, the only reminder of the day’s surge of patients who anxiously awaited word about their health.

Bright, colorful chairs at Desk C in the Hilton Building stand ready for the next morning’s throng of fasting patients nervous about their impending blood tests. A sinking sun bathes the courtyard in the fastly fading blue light of evening.

It’s 7 o’clock. Patients have returned to their hotels and guest rooms. Consultants have gone home or are making hospital rounds. Paramedical employees are tending their families after spending the day tending patients.

But the day is far from over at the Clinic. Much work remains before the first patient comes through the doors in the morning.

Floors must be mopped, carpets vacuumed, desks dusted, restrooms cleaned, waste baskets emptied. A thousand tasks remain before the desk attendant calls the first name tomorrow.

It is in this nightly stillness that an army of custodians launches an assault from 5:30 p.m. until 1:30 a.m. on every waiting room, office, examining room, laboratory, restroom, elevator, hallway, every nook and every cranny of the Clinic.

1981 photos of custodians Betty Shaw, Harold Walker and Mike Hlohinec at work“Whenever I would come to a doctor up here I would always think, ‘Gee, wouldn’t it be nice to clean a place like this. It would be interesting work,’” Mrs. Betty Shaw (pictured above, upper left) said smiling. She is assigned to the Department of Oncology on the 12th floor of the Mayo Building.

She is a member of the 175 person army that keeps the buildings spotless.

Most of Mayo’s custodians live in communities within a 35-mile radius and commute to work each evening. About half are farmers who watch over their crops and cattle by day and put a shine on floors by night.

Harold Walker (pictured above, lower left), the lead man on the sixth floor of the Mayo Building, lives in Pleasant Grove and farms 160 acres of land. He has worked at the Clinic since 1968 and each afternoon makes the 15-mile trip to work in a car pool with neighbors who also work on the custodial staff. About 90 percent of the custodians are members of car pools.

“I’ve lived on my farm since 1948. When I realized my children didn’t want to farm, I decided to sell the cows and go to work for the Mayo Clinic,” Walker said.

Not ready to quit farming all together, Walker decided the evening hours would allow him time to continue raising crops and a small herd of beef cattle. “It’s fit in real well. I get to bed about 2 a.m. and when you’re through on Friday night you have a long weekend until you come back to work Monday afternoon, “ Walker explained.

When Walker joined the Clinic staff quite a few custodians also farmed during the day. But there aren’t as many now. He attributes this to the younger age of the farmers now.

Mrs. Shaw, who lives in Chatfield, began working at the Clinic in 1978. She had been working for a restaurant when she heard Mayo was starting to hire women for its custodial staff. Mayo now has 17 women custodians.

A job on the custodial staff is helping Mike Hlohinec (pictured above, on the right) finance the construction of a new home. He is trained in landscaping and works part-time for a local nursery.

Hlohinec has worked at Mayo for a year and a half and is assigned to fourth floor Mayo. “People here are helpful. The hours, people and benefits are impressive,” he said.

Bright smiles and friendly greetings meet Warren Hess (pictured at the top of the article) as he enters the Hematology Lab on the third floor of the Hilton Building. Hess, lead man of the third and fourth floors of the Hilton, works in one of the few areas where employees are present during the shift.

The employees on his floor give Hess’ job meaning. “You know, when I first started working here, there was no one on our floor at night. After that they started having the technicians in hematology work at night. At first it seemed like I was working for the institution. Now I’m working for the people,” he explained.

At Christmas one year, Hess came in early and for the first time met all the people who worked on his floor. “I couldn’t believe there were that many,” he laughed.

Hess, who has a 160-acre farm near Stewartville, joined the staff 14 years ago. He began working at Mayo because he needed the additional income. He has a dairy herd and “with the help of my wife, they get milked twice a day.”

The custodial staff gets excellent cooperation from employees in various Clinic departments. “They are careful and do a good job of cleaning up many of the spills themselves,” Hess said.

Employees and patients are often amazed and always pleased at the spotlessly clean surroundings.

“It’s pride in the job. It’s the Mayo way,” Hess said.

Drawing comparisons between Mayo’s custodial staff and similar departments elsewhere is a difficult task. “I doubt if there is a staff that could compare with ours,” Herb Howe, head of the Personnel Section, said. “The quality of maintenance speaks for itself. The place is always neat and clean. It can pass the white glove test,” he said.

Mr. Howe also pointed out another service the staff provides the Clinic. “They are an evening security force, reassuring those who work evening hours. This is because of their honesty and integrity,” he said. “The custodial staff is important to Mayo. They contribute significantly to portraying Mayo to patients and visitors.”

Tom Hennessey, custodial supervisor, reiterated the point. “The employees on the custodial staff are an example of the type of people who we are able to attract to Mayo and of the professional attitude that’s displayed in all sections here,” he said.

Once while Walker was cleaning a public restroom, a man said he was impressed with how clean the buildings are. “He said he was a doctor from the east. He was amazed at the cleanliness,” Walker said. “It makes you feel good when someone notices.”

Over the years he has worked at Mayo, Walker has seen a lot of changes. Newer desks are easier to clean and the original tile flooring in waiting rooms of the Mayo Building was covered with carpet, making the cleaning go faster.

The custodial force is a smoothly running department, according to Hess. A Janitors’ Club has been organized by the custodial staff. The group sponsors retirement parties and social events for custodians.

“Working here is a joy. I always tell the new fellows they’ll make a girl a great wife someday after they learn to clean here at Mayo,” Walker laughed.

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