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Back row left: Rick Burgess, Susan and Phil Bartels stand with Facilities Management leadership and Rob Osborn, far right, with recipients of the 2018 Bartels Awards for Custodial Service Excellence seated in front.

Rob Osborn, Phil and Susan Bartels return to campus to celebrate staff

Phil and Susan Bartels, founders of Cornell’s Bartels Awards for Custodial Service Excellence, returned to campus Dec. 14 to recognize the work of more than 400 Building Care staff.

They joined retired Building Care director Rob Osborn; Rick Burgess, vice president for facilities and campus services; Mary Opperman, vice president and chief human resources officer; and Facilities Management leadership in Bartels Hall to honor six custodial and housekeeping staff members. They also announced scholarships to 10 children of Building Care staff currently working toward their college degrees.

Pearl Bryan receives a Bartels Award for Custodial Service Excellence.

“Extending back to August 1944 when my mother, Nancy, first came to campus as a freshman – and on behalf of three generations of my Bartels family – I would like to express our deep gratitude to the many generations of Building Care employees for helping to make our time at Cornell a first-class experience for each of us,” said Phil Bartels, Class of ’71.

Osborn recounted how the program was born, stemming from the kindness a single employee had shown to Bartels’ daughter Katie in 2006, when she was a senior at Cornell. Phil Bartels subsequently contacted Osborn, lauded the custodial staff’s dedication to Cornell and upbeat attitude and service to students, and offered to sponsor an annual program that would recognize outstanding custodial staff. That program later expanded to include scholarships as well.

Jim Gibbs, interim associate vice president for facilities management, said Osborn created a culture of “hard work, dedication and teamwork” in Building Care that endures to this day. He pointed to the response of Building Care staff to a recent snowstorm, cold snap, flooding and emergency power issues as examples. “In addition, Walter Hartman recognized and took action to help a student in distress,” Gibbs said.

The Bartels Award is given annually to six custodial and housekeeping staff members with at least five years of service, nominated by their managers for their strong customer service orientation, reliability, team-building and communication skills, technical knowledge, support of the Cornell mission and positive attitude. Awardees also receive a certificate of recognition and a monetary award.

“You make a difference every day,” said Opperman. Burgess read a letter to President Martha E. Pollack written by the co-chairs of the Buildings and Properties Committee of the Cornell University Board of Trustees in praise of Building Care staff, saying they always “bring their best to the task at hand.”

This year’s awardees:

  • Pearl Bryan has worked in Building Care for more than 30 years. As a head custodian, Bryan is known for her outstanding leadership, acts of kindness and generosity, and tireless efforts in showing that “if you want to accomplish more, you can,” said Darrell Reynolds, endowed zone facilities director. She is sensitive and empathetic, Reynolds said, describing her care for an international student who had been in a traffic accident.
  • Teresa Halstead is quiet and humble but knows how to lead and nurture others and has great organizational, tracking and record keeping skills, said Jessie Wells, interim contract college facility director. Halstead has been a Cornell employee for 22 years, starting as an SO2 in Clark Hall and now working as a Building Care lead. She has earned many attendance excellence awards, all while running her own farm stand.
  • Jorge Ramirez has been at the university for almost 12 years, said Cindy Lockwood, associate director, Facilities Management, student and campus life zone. He has received excellent attendance recognition at least 11 times over the years and is known for his “upbeat personality and comical outlook.” He also is known for the enthusiasm and care he shows for those around him, his pride in his work, and his smile and positive attitude, Lockwood said.
  • Josh Relyea is a safety representative for Weill Hall. His manager says he is a team player who is always willing to help. Others working with him say Relyea is mild-mannered, customer-focused, courteous and professional, and well-known for his work ethic and attitude.
  • According to her manager, Cathy Smith “takes great pride in her work and it shows.” Smith is known for her work ethic, dedication and attention to details. She works third shift in Sage Hall, and is always willing to cover schedules for her coworkers who may be out.
  • Herb Whitaker is known as a friendly person who easily strikes up conversations with everyone he meets. Wayne Davenport, director of facilities at the College of Veterinary Medicine, where Whitaker works, said Whitaker cleaned the Small Animal Community Practice Building while it was under construction and thanked him for “his continued service and dedication to keeping this facility in tip-top condition.”

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Gillian Smith