The Collegian
Thursday, May 06, 2021

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Employees stay on campus for students during storm

While students were packing snowballs in the midst of a winter storm on Saturday afternoon, Jerry Clemmer, general manager of University Dining Services, was searching for batteries so he could inflate air mattresses for the 18 dining services employees who would be spending the night on campus.

The University of Richmond received more than 11 inches of snow on Jan. 30, and several facilities, activities and classes were closed, canceled or postponed. But what about the Heilman Dining Center employees who couldn't go home? How did they get to and from the university with road conditions worsening throughout the day?

Alvin Johnson, a dining hall employee whom almost every student would recognize, spoke about the measures he took to get to work on time, despite the winter storm.

"Snow or no snow, it's our responsibility to be here," Johnson said. "To be here for y'all - for the students."

Johnson said that when he had walked to his car on the morning of the winter storm, he noticed that the tire was "flat as a pancake." Johnson struggled to change the tire as the snow silently coated his car and surroundings, but realized he was missing a part and was therefore unable change it. His neighbor offered to give him a ride to work, even though the snow was quickly accumulating, he said.

"I thought about calling in," Johnson said. "But the kids need us here."

Most of the employees drove or took the bus, Clemmer said. Only one scheduled employee couldn't make it to work.

By noon the campus resembled a snow-covered winter wonderland. With six inches of snow already draping the gothic buildings and obscuring the brick paths and roads, driving conditions were becoming increasingly precarious. Some of the employees whose shifts ended mid-day got stuck as they tried to leave campus, Clemmer said, and few had to come back and spend the night.

Approximately 18 members of the dining service team spent the night on campus, said Dee Hardy, director of dining services.

"They've been doing this for years," said Tim Scott, a dining hall employee. "It always works out."

Hardy said: "We had a sleepover in the dining hall. Some slept in the Westhampton Room, some slept downstairs and we had a few in the Alumni Center - basically anywhere with floor space."

Johnson and Clemmer were among the 18 employees who slept in various places around campus.

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"I was supposed to spend the night," said Tykisha Booker, a dining hall employee. "But I decided to leave my car here overnight [and found a ride home.]"

Booker was one of many employees who sought the assistance of friends and family who had vehicles with all-wheel drive and well-equipped to drive in the aftermath of the fierce winter storm.

Hardy said she and another employee went to Wal-Mart to buy air mattresses, blankets, towels, toiletries and other supplies for the employees who would be sleeping on campus.

"We picked up enough supplies to get people through the night," Hardy said "We had access to showers, washers and dryers, too."

Clemmer said: "I'm not complaining. This is a time when we have to be here for our students. I hope the efforts made today show how much we really care. We have a great team, we really do."

Clemmer went on to say that a few of the managers who weren't scheduled to work on Saturday came to the dining hall to make sure everything was operating smoothly.

"Those are the kind of employees we have here," Clemmer said. "We are truly here for the students."

Because road conditions worsened at night, the dining hall closed early on Saturday to give employees a chance to get home, Hardy said.

"We did have some behavior concerns with inebriated students," Hardy added, regarding rowdy student conduct in the dining hall on Saturday evening.

It took staff an extra 1.5 hours to clean the tossed food and debris in the dining rooms left by disorderly students, Hardy said.

"I don't think any of it was done with malicious intent," Hardy said. "I think students had cabin fever, and a few of them didn't stop to think about the consequences of their actions."

But there's another winter storm on the forecast, and Hardy said students would have another opportunity to be respectful to the staff who work to handle all the quandaries that inevitably come with inclement weather.

"I would really like to recognize the commitment of my team and the facilities crew, too," Hardy said. "It was a rough storm that definitely brought challenges. But I truly believe that the majority of students appreciate our efforts."

Contact staff writer Fred Shaia at fred.shaia@richmond.edu

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