The Catholic University of America

Feb. 18, 2010

CUA President Praises Unsung Heroes of 2010 Blizzards

  Father David O’Connell enjoys lunch with staffers at a special appreciation event.

On behalf of the campus community, Catholic University’s president, Very Rev. David M. O’Connell, C.M., delivered a special thank you to staff members for their tireless work during recent record-breaking snowstorms.

At a toast on Thursday to 180 staff members who cleared snow, kept the campus secure and served food, Father O’Connell said, “This afternoon’s luncheon gives me an opportunity, as president of The Catholic University of America, to express a word of thanks to all of you on behalf of the entire university community.”

The special event at the Edward J. Pryzbyla University Center featured sunshine-yellow tablecloths, spring flowers and a cake that said, “Thank You Snow Heroes of the Blizzards of 2010.”

Father O’Connell told staff members, “Your hard work, dedication and commitment ‘around the clock’ were so evident during the recent blizzards. Everyone from Facilities/Grounds to Public Safety to ARAMARK Food Services went way ‘above and beyond the call of duty’ to make the campus and our students safe during the snowstorms. I know firsthand that our students were very conscious of your efforts.”

Students show their appreciation by writing thank-you notes on posters in the Pryzbyla Center. “Thank you so much for keeping us safe,” one student wrote to the facilities staff.

Back-to-back storms dumped more than two feet of snow on the Washington, D.C., area and created blizzard conditions. “I’ve been doing this for 25 years, and I’ve never seen anything of this magnitude,” said Chris Vetick, CUA’s assistant director of grounds and fleet maintenance. “It was definitely a challenge.”

Where did all that snow go? Vetick said about three-quarters of the snow removed from campus streets and parking lots was hauled to the vacant 49 acres along the western border of campus, and about 20 percent was moved to the parking lot at the Raymond A. DuFour Center.

Fifty-six grounds workers, custodians, special-events and building maintenance workers removed the snow with the support of contractors, who also supplied equipment. Steps, ramps and sideways were cleared by hand. Huge machinery loaded snow into dumpsters and hauled it away.

Father O’Connell noted during the celebratory luncheon that he tried to clear snow from the garage at Nugent Hall, where he works and lives. “I wasn’t out there two minutes before I had five guys, a truck and a plow. That’s always the way. You folks are so very, very thoughtful.”

Workers spent 12- to 18-hour shifts removing snow, with much of the work being done overnight when precipitation was heavy. Up to 70 people were housed at the DuFour center, in trailers in Curley Court and in the grounds shop near O’Boyle Hall. “Everybody had a great attitude,” Vetick said. “They persevered through everything.”

  Christine Peterson, associate vice president and chief human resources officer, joins in thanking facilities, public safety and ARAMARK Food Services staff on behalf of CUA.

Vetick noted, “Our main mission was making safe passage throughout the campus for the students, public safety and any staff members who were on the campus.”

As with other offices, the Department of Public Safety had staffers work multiple shifts and stay on campus. Beyond patrol watch, public safety ensured that emergency vehicles could gain access to campus.

Father O’Connell, who garnered a groan from the audience when he mentioned that he just had returned from a work trip to 80-degree California, said, “Washington’s ‘Snowmageddon’ was the talk of the town, especially among our alumni out there. I told them that, although I couldn’t speak for the city, I could say that I left the campus in the very best hands.”

He thanked a number of people specifically, including Charlie Callis, a public safety investigator. When many roads were impassible, Callis used his Range Rover to get university chaplain, Rev. Robert Schlageter, O.F.M. Conv., to a local hospital and back to campus with two students.

As staffers entered the Pryzbyla Center for Thursday’s luncheon, they were greeted by two large posters covered in notes of appreciation from students. “You have all been such a blessing this week,” one student wrote to the facilities staff. “You’ve kept our food hot when the snow made us cold,” one student wrote to ARAMARK, CUA’s food-service provider.

Hot food was on demand during the blizzards, and ARAMARK made extra soup. “A lot of kids migrated to soups and the hot cereal,” said Troy Jordan, student restaurant manager.

The lunch at the Pryzbyla Center featured a spring theme and a cake that said, “Thank You Snow Heroes of the Blizzards of 2010.”

Jordan was among the food-service staff that trudged through the snow to get to campus. Seven food managers stayed overnight on campus to ensure there was no disruption in food service. “The food part is pretty much basic for us because it’s what we do. But getting to work was the challenge.”

On the first day of Blizzard 2010, nine staffers were able to get to campus. They alone served 2,700 meals.

Because several days of inventory always are kept on hand, ARAMARK didn’t run out of food. Between storms, it was able to get a few deliveries from major suppliers, Jordan said.

The blizzards gave Jordan and other managers a chance to exchange their suits and ties for a chef’s coat. “We got a chance to do things we normally don’t do. I’m the food service director, but I got a chance to get into the kitchen,” said Jordan, who cooked scrambled eggs and sausage, among other things.

As Father O’Connell closed his remarks, he said, “People often ask me what I’ll miss the most when I leave Catholic University at the end of the year. As I look around this room, I can say without hesitation, it is the staff of CUA — the people in this room — whose dedication has been an inspiration to me from day one.”

Then he commanded, “No more snow. We have had enough.”