Casasola & Gonzalez: Their bond with students goes beyond building repairVicente Casasola and Everardo Gonzalez have worked together at Pierce Hall for the past three years, but their bond goes beyond taking care of the many problems in an undergraduate residence hall. Everardo is Vicente's nephew, and they share an off-duty ministry as Jehovah's Witnesses.
"I've known Everardo since he was a kid," said Casasola, who moved to Illinois in the mid-1960s from his home in Atoyoc Jalisco, near Guadalajara in Mexico. "Now, he visits me at my house, and I visit him at his."
The duo share a love of working with students living in the University House System. As Head Housekeeper at Pierce, Casasola is in charge of meeting all sorts of student needs -- from helping students move in and out of the building to keeping track of desks and chairs that need replacing, and everything in between. As Housekeeper, Gonzalez works for Casasola to ensure that the building is well kept.
"Whatever a student needs, we can do it," Gonzalez said. "And some students need a lot."
But for both men, the heart of the job goes beyond specific work requests.
"It's important to have a good relationship with the students," Casasola said. "We make sure that everybody knows who we are. We approach students who might not think to talk with staff. We fool around and joke with them and we get along with them quite well. And it really helps. I think it's one of the reasons that the rooms and the building aren't as messy as they could be."
When Casasola first thought of moving to the United States, he saw himself living on the West Coast. "As a young man, I used to dream about moving to California, where many of my friends had gone to work as farm workers in orange fields," he said.
But Casasola ended up working near Springfield, Ill. In 1968, he moved to Chicago and worked as a crane operator in a South Chicago steel mill. When the mill closed, he worked at a box-spring manufacturer. He joined the University five years ago, bringing his skills in building and organization to Woodward Court. He joined the Pierce staff three years ago, as did Gonzalez.
The men had previously worked together at the box-spring plant more than 8 years ago, after Gonzalez had moved to Chicago from Mexico. A few years ago, Gonzalez began his own landscaping company, but after a few rough winters he reunited with his uncle at Pierce.
"I think Chicago winters are harder now than when I was younger," Casasola commented, laughing. "Even though some of the past few years have been mild, I can feel it now that I'm older."
Casasola and Gonzalez both say that working for the University is better than any of their previous work experiences.
"In a steel mill or factory, you don't deal with many people, just your co-workers," Gonzalez said.
Casasola agreed. "Here, we meet new people every year. And the students here don't discriminate against you or look down at building staff the way that some older people might. They really understand what we do and how we can help them."
This help often goes beyond the bounds of building maintenance.
"Students in the building are often taking Spanish language classes for the first time, and we are always helping them with their pronunciation," said Casasola. "In fact, we always try to learn something from them in return. If a Korean or Chinese or Japanese student asks us for help on a certain word or phrase, we always get them to teach us how to say the same word or phrase in their native language."
"Even if they don't speak Spanish, they usually try to say 'Buenos dias' or 'Gracias' to us," Gonzalez said. "While we usually correct their accent, many students then ask us other phrases, and a lot get more interested in studying Spanish. Some of them even get very good at talking to us -- which is always a lot of fun."
While this dialogue takes place during the academic year, both Casasola and Gonzalez feel the results of their efforts all year round.
"One of the greatest pleasures of the job is when students we have gotten to know stop by before they leave for the summer break and say, 'See you in September,' " Casasola said. "And during the summer, if we see students in the street or on campus, they all say hello. It's a nice feeling. You're not going to get that working in a factory."
-- Jeff Makos