Unsung Heroesby Amy Scheer

Read about the maintenance department's most memorable messes and more.

Maintenance by the Numbers

Rolls of toilet paper bought each year
WorkHorse industrial rags used yearly
Gallons of floor cleaner and wax applied annually
Muffins consumed each summer

Students are the focus for a maintenance staff that keeps Northwestern running

This summer, junior Andy Boone is back at his job on Northwestern’s maintenance crew, and he’s like a kid at Christmas.

“I’ll get to clean the Courtyard Village apartments,” says Boone. “I might get to shampoo the carpets.”

Boone can’t be blamed for talking like this. He spends his time with Scott Simmelink, director of maintenance and operations, who says such things as, “There’s nothing like giving students a hand at 11 at night when they lock their keys in the car, or starting their cars when it’s 20-below.”

Um, yeah.

In the 15th century, the word maintenance was defined as the “action of upholding or keeping in being.” Earlier, the word was thought of as the “action of providing a person with the necessities of life.”

In 2009, Simmelink puts it this way: “We try to get things back to normal as quick as we can.”

It takes 20 full-time staff, six part-time and seasonal workers, and some 25 summer student workers to maintain normalcy at Northwestern. Plumbers, housekeepers, groundskeepers, electricians, locksmiths, heating/cooling experts and carpenters make up the crew; there are also folks in charge of tasks from coordinating facility and vehicle rentals to keeping up on government regulations for all of the above.

It might be easier to list what they don’t do: classroom teaching. (“Can’t do that,” says Simmelink.)

Summers find the staff coordinating renovations, catching up on projects, and restoring dorms to their natural state through extensive cleaning and repairs. When chests of drawers show wear from being used all year as ladders to the top bunk, for example, that’s just “normal routine maintenance” in Simmelink’s worldview.

Boone says cleaning never feels like work around housekeepers Pat Bruxvoort and Kathy Kleinwolterink. Jessi Post, a senior who has worked maintenance the past three years, points to a game they liked to play in the apartments.

“We’d walk in and guess if it was a boys’ or girls’ room based on what was left behind and what it smelled like,” says Post. “I was usually right.”

While summer mornings always start with devotions, each day also has its own theme—like “Muffin Man Fridays,” when a mystery person provides sweets for the crew.

“I still don’t know who the Muffin Man is,” says Post, sounding a little miffed. “No one will give me a straight answer.”

Gary Jeltema, supervisor of mechanical services, says one of the joys of the job is being around students. “Some you get to know because they’ve done something wrong,” he adds with a chuckle.

Northwestern students have been known to execute elaborate pranks. Jeltema won’t divulge some of them, not wanting to give current students any ideas. Instead, witness him talking about the time all 52 chapel pews were unbolted and turned to face the back wall. Will he discuss the amount of work this caused his crew? Will there be a hint of resentment in his voice, a need for revenge? No. Jeltema gives the basic facts, and then makes a point of mentioning that one of the brains behind the stunt now runs his own successful computer business in Sioux Falls.

“I guess he was thinking outside the box,” Jeltema says, no small amount of admiration in his voice.

Each month, many maintenance staff take a payroll deduction to fund a scholarship for students who work with them. It’s a way to “give back” to the students, Simmelink says.

“We’ve got great kids here,” he says, momentarily forgetting about the pews.

Job satisfaction? Check. The retention rate in the maintenance department is arguably the best at Northwestern: Nine of the full-time employees have served nearly 20 years each—some as many as 26.

“They have a heart for helping out and being a servant to others,” Boone says. “Forty hours a week you clean, you clean, you repeat. I’ve never once heard a person complain. I always see Kathy with a smile on her face.”

Jeltema enjoys coming to work in the morning, he says. “We’ve got a special staff—it’s like family.”

That’s how students put it too. Like the young woman standing in the cold while her car roared back to life, who turned to Simmelink and said, “This is just like having a dad on campus.”

“It was the best compliment I ever received,” says Simmelink, talking again like somebody who shows up day after day just for moments like this.

Classic Comments

All comments are moderated and need approval from the moderator before they are posted. Comments that include profanity, or personal attacks, or antisocial behavior such as "spamming" or other inappropriate comments or material will be removed from the site. We will take steps to block users who violate any of our terms of use. You are fully responsible for the content that you post. Comments posted do not reflect the views or values of Northwestern College.

Share your news
Do you have news or a story idea you would like to appear in the Classic? You can let us know by sending us an email or by updating your information.