PC’s custodial staff talk joys, hardships of job

Photo by Anna Watson | Gary Smith has been a Parkland custodian for 10 years, and he says there are good and bad days that come with the job.

Photo by Anna Watson | Gary Smith has been a Parkland custodian for 10 years, and he says there are good and bad days that come with the job.

Anna Watson

Staff Writer

Twenty-nine names are listed on Parkland’s website under custodial staff, not including maintenance repair workers or groundskeepers. Of these custodians, five shared the ups and downs of their job.

Brian Walker, 59, is a retired chemist and is full-time Parkland custodian who cleans the cafeteria in the U-wing.

He started working for Parkland because the job offered health coverage he needed to open his own information technology practice, but Walker said there is some regret in it all.

“So many people question me or my background because I am a custodian,” Walker said, “People tend to judge a book by its cover, so to speak.”

He said that’s why keeps a file of his academic transcripts on his cell phone.

Walker has an undergraduate degree in chemistry from Hampton University in Virginia. He attended graduate school at the University of Miami for two years, taught a class at the University of Illinois, worked three years as a lab engineer for Caterpillar in Morton, Ill., six years as a chemist for Combe Laboratories in Rantoul, Ill., and attended Parkland between the years 2000–2010 taking a total of 21 computer courses.

If Walker overhears a student mispronounce a chemical while doing his job he wants to help them pronounce it correctly. He said most students are very appreciative, but he respects the requirement to keep his profession separate from his custodial work.

“I do like Parkland because I am not micromanaged and I have no one looking over my shoulder,” Walker said.

Albert Like works as a custodian too, and for his work he tries to give more than a clean area. 

“At a community college, we should all be a community and you shouldn’t be scared to walk past me and smile, because college is hard for a young kid. So, what we try to do if lift you up and say ‘we’re here,’” Like said.

Like said there are a lot of ups-and-downs when it comes to the relationships of students and faculty at Parkland.

“It’s where you come from,” Like said. “Some people get you, and some people don’t. It’s making a person feel wanted.”

For Like, there is a lot to value in his job.

“The greatest feeling is when a student walks up and says, ‘hey, I got that A.’ It happens to us a lot, because we do put so much into the kids here. That’s our jobs, not only as adults but as parents.”

Gary Smith has been a custodian for 10 years. He said there are good days and bad, but he looks forward mostly to the students and atmosphere at Parkland.

“When people come to a community college, it is supposed to be clean for the students and teachers. So everyone coming to work and school can enjoy their environment,” Smith said.

Smith said he takes pride in his work. He works to maintain the Student Life area in the U-wing.

Melvin Richardson, 49, sees importance in being a ‘people’ person while working in a college environment.

“You can help students and they can help you,” said Richardson, who has been employed by Parkland as a custodian for nine years, “I have students that come and talk to me. They will ask for advice or get something off their chest.”

Richardson understands the amount of pressure students feel.

“Some students are far away from home, so I try to show them a home here,” Richardson said. 

Steven Bradly, Jr., another Parkland custodian, also explained how working in a college environment can offer appeal.

“It is pretty exciting, it keeps you on your toes because you never know what to expect working with students and all,” Bradly said.

Also, he said Parkland is a fair, equal work workspace.

“You get a fair chance here even if you mess up,” Bradly said. “as long as you do [your] job, show up, and everything is clean.”