Long-time janitor missed by many

As Keith Gerweck walked into the room, it was immediately obvious he was accommodating his knees. 

This was Gerweck’s second day in the final week of his career as a janitor at MCCC.

Gerweck took his time settling into his chair — this is a forced retirement, on advice from his doctor because of a possible fourth knee surgery.

For students and employees at MCCC, Gerweck has been a consistent, smiling presence in the college’s hallways for 25 years. 

“Keith was always willing to help, always smiling,” said Suzanne Wetzel, MCCC’s vice president of Administration 

“He made you feel good about working with him.”

Brain Rorke, maintenance foreman and long time coworker, said Gerweck has always been a team player.

“What I always remember with Keith was that he was always willing to put others before himself,” Rorke said.

Gerweck, who has been married for 38 years and has one daughter, retired at the end of November. 

He took the job of custodian 25 years ago, planning to work his way up to boiler operator. By the time the position was offered to him, he was content with his custodial duties, which offered the day shift.

“I like working five days a week on days,” he said.

So Gerweck has more or less maintained the same position throughout his career at MCCC. Before joining the college staff, he worked as a maintenance laborer for a factory in the county. 

“I’ve taken some college since I’ve been here. But I wasn’t the best English student and all, and I didn’t need it for this job.”

A lifetime Monroe resident, Gerweck has never lived outside of the county.

“Farthest I’ve lived from where I was born was seven miles,” he said.

Gerweck has been struggling with pain for the last two years due to his knee problems and three surgeries.

“There’s been a lot of days where I go home and I can’t hardly move,” he said.  

Gerweck said interacting with students is a pleasant part of his job. 

“I have enjoyed the student body.” he said. “We were once told everybody is our customer, from the students, the staff, the faculty, we’re to service all of them, and I’ve enjoyed doing it all.”

He said most MCCC students are courteous and behave well.

“In high school, you’d see the bathroom stalls graffitied. But by the time they get here, they want to be here,” he said. 

Gerweck also has worked at the Whitman Center.

“It’s more laid back there, but I think they think they’re kind of discriminated on,” he said.

Gerweck noted that the college had six more maintenance workers when he first started than it has now, and five buildings have been added.

“Right now, we’re way understaffed,” he said. “They didn’t fill a position… and we need them, we need them bad. And we’re afraid come this winter, that we’re not going to be able to keep up.” 

The snow and issues associated with it will be their first priority, 

“Safety is first, and this fall, we haven’t been able to keep up with what needs to be done. When the snow falls, we’re really not going to be able to keep up,” Gerweck said.

He explained that the previous physical plant director, who was very good with graphs and figures, estimated they needed three additional employees to keep up with the work.

Gerweck siad that if the millage increase had been approved in the November election, the college planned to hire additional custodians. 

He said the custodians work well together, which helps them accomplish a lot of work.

“This has been a very good place to work. We’ve got good people. There’s been ups and downs, but the majority is pretty much up. We have an excellent crew in our department, and pretty much we all get along,” he said.

Jack Burns was hired last year as MCCC’s new director of Campus Planning & Facilities.

“Keith always has a smiling face, he is very pleasant with everybody, he always seems to know what people need,” Burns said.

He said when the campus has a room reservation and they realize they need something done, Gerweck often already has done it.

“He just has that kind of uncanny knack to do that kind of thing,” Burns said.

Gerweck is third highest among the maintenance staff for years worked, but he doesn’t let the young ones handle all of the tough stuff.

“We all work hard. In the last year, the guys have tried to take care of me. They’ve tried to keep me off ladders and stuff,” he said. 

Gerweck said many people have made his time at MCCC enjoyable, but he mentioned Rorke, Frank Davis, Dale Parker, and Sue Hoffer.

“They’re the ones we’ve counted on for years,” he said.

Gerweck said he is going to miss his work, especially setting up for events.

“I do enjoy that. I get to try to figure out what someone else needs on these permits. What they put down is not always what they really want,” he explained.

He said people have joked with him that once he retires he needs to work at a grocery store as a greeter, because he’s always saying hello to everybody.

“I’m one of a kind, thank God. I’ve always been kind of full of it. I’m a jokester,” he laughed.

He said he thinks the janitors sometimes know more about what’s going on than faculty or others, because a lot of times people talk to them.

“There’s a lot of secrets that we’ve kept over the years,” he said.

“I’ve had a lot of people in tears tell me what’s going on. And I kind of use my humor to try to make things better. If it’s something that you can do, I can tell them who to go to miss the red tape. I’ve enjoyed that.” 

He has always preferred working on days, even though it’s not the most popular shift among custodians. 

“It was almost a job that they forced you to take, and I loved it,” he said.

Days suited Gerweck’s family life, and he took as many day shifts as he could, swapping with other custodians to get the otherwise unwanted shifts.

“Working days, everybody’s your boss,” he said.

Gerweck said the top executives at the college usually have been easy to work with.

“There’s been times when I’ve been in trouble because someone wanted me to jump and I couldn’t. But normally the higher position they are, the easier they are to work with,” he said. 

He praised current MCCC President Kojo Quartey.

“He’s very personable, he walks into classrooms,” Gerweck laughed.

He said some professors don’t appreciate that, but he expressed his admiration for the new president.

Gerweck added that in the past, college administrators seemed to be more pointed outward at the community. He said Quartey has turned the attention back to the students and the men and women who work here. 

“His hands are tied because of the money,” Gerweck said, adding that he believes Kojo’s heart is in the right place.

He said he has usually felt supported by the people he worked with and worked for.

“I felt very appreciated by the students and the staff,” he said.

Perhaps it’s unusual for a janitor to leave such a wide impression upon a community.

“I hope I’m remembered,” he said with a smile.

“People I see down the halls will go out of their way to talk to me, to say hello,” he said.

“I’ve always looked at it this way: If I’m the first person they see, if I can make them feel at ease, it makes it better for everybody.”

Gerweck said he will occasionally come by to say hello to friends he has made at MCCC.  

Those at the top of the administration and those whom he passed in the halls were the ones who he appreciated the most. 

Those who worked in between weren’t always as enjoyable to work with.

“A lot of times, it’s the people without a lot of power that cause the most problems,” he said. “They’re insecure.”

Gerweck said he wanted to send a message to students to be careful this winter when coming and going from the parking lots during snow storms. 

“When we’re plowing snow, they ought to realize, we can’t see everything,” he said. 

He tells a story about a particularly cold and windy day when he grabbed an emergency blanket for a board member.

“I did what I thought was needed: she was in a dress and it was cold and windy, so I went and got an emergency blanket,” he said.

He said his coworkers teased him about it.

“They couldn’t believe I did it; I couldn’t believe I wouldn’t do it!” he said.

With his love for working and riding his motorcycle, as well as his family and friends, Gerweck has his retirement laid out. 

He said he makes furniture for friends and relatives, never charging but simply giving them away. He enjoys creating the different works and it makes him happy to bless others with them. 

“I work on stuff all the time,” he said. 

Next summer, he plans on seeing the United States from a motorcycle. His wife says one month; he says two. 

For the last few years he’s gone on trips for a week or so at a time.

“I ride weekends, nights, to work,” he said.

He’s tried going out to the Badlands twice, but was turned around because of bad weather. He has been down to the Smoky Mountains a number of times. 

“We look for the curvy roads,” he laughed. 

His bike is a Victory Cross Country, full dress. 

They’re similar to the big Harley’s, but claim to be the true American bike, with the majority of parts made in the U.S., including Flint and Cleveland.

Gerweck likes that it is American-made and sourced near our area.

“I get a lot of people looking at it, because it’s a little bit more space-age looking than the Harley,” he said.

“I’ve got a patch that says, ‘Old coot on scoot’,” he laughed — Gerweck will be 60 shortly.

Wetzel said she worked with Gerweck to on the organization of a bike rally to raise money for charity. 

“Working that project with Keith was really fun; it’s a fond memory. It was a big community service endeavor, helping to plan this big bike rally,” she said.

“We worked on a lot of events on campus, we worked on a lot of setups,”she said. 

“He’s always making sure the setup was correct, and was great at following through and following up on that kind of stuff.”

Wetzel said Gerweck would drop anything to assist you, and that he truly embraces the service mentality, understanding what it means and why it’s important. 

“It’s easy to get caught up in daily life, but Keith was never bothered by anything,” she said.