Darlene Rennells spent a year mostly on her hands and knees, wielding a toothbrush to clean grime and old wax off the raised anti-slip discs on 10 flights of stairs and landings in Rockefeller Hall.
The flooring was “really ugly – really ugly,” said Rennells, who has worked at Cornell for 34 years. “And I just thought, ‘You know what? I can do better.’”
Once they were clean, she waxed them until they shined. “It turned out so beautiful,” she said, showing a photo of the gleaming floors. “It needed to be done.”
Rennells was one of six Cornell building care professionals recognized for outstanding dedication to their craft at the 2022 Bartels Awards for Custodial Service Excellence, held Dec. 20 in Barton Hall.
The event also recognized recipients of the Bartels Scholarship for building care employees and their children. The gathering for nearly 400 staff in the Building Care Department was the first in-person Bartels Awards event since 2019, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Bob Pils, director of building care in the division of Facilities and Campus Services, thanked the custodians for creating a safe, clean environment in university buildings.
“All of you are a central part of Cornell being a world-class institution,” Pils said. “Each and every one of you should be proud of the work that you do every day to support all Cornellians and those who visit our beautiful campus.”
Award winners must be nominated to be considered for the honor. A panel of judges chooses the winners based on nomination letters and the nominees’ duration of employment at Cornell, customer service, support of fellow team members, reliability, positive attitude, knowledge of the field, support of the division’s mission, and excellence in attendance and work performance.
This year’s awardees:
Cheryl Wunder was honored for 22 years of exemplary service. “She is a wonderful colleague who makes it possible for me to work and teach in a clean and healthy lab,” a professor wrote in a nomination letter. Her manager wrote: “Customers count on her and know she will go the extra mile to make sure they work in a clean and safe working environment.”
Brad Dutcher, a 15-year veteran of Cornell, was recognized as a “tremendous leader” who brings team members together, nominators noted. He also served a critical role at the athletics complex. “He has a special way of increasing the morale of the staff and those around him,” a nominator said. Others described him as a “dependable, well-spoken team leader.”
Rebecca Hayes was honored for her excellent work at Cornell since 1994, in residential, campus life and academic buildings. Anthony Bellamy, chief of Cornell University Police, wrote in a nomination letter that Hayes “greets the department’s personnel with a smile and hello every day [and] shows attention to details. Her personal and professional attitude reflects the Facilities and Campus Services’ values of truth, respect, excellent teamwork and integrity.”
Mike Bryan was recognized for his outstanding work since 2014. “If we had the ability to clone staff, [he] would be the prototype,” said Cindy Lockwood, associate director of Building Care. Mike Gray, head wrestling coach, wrote in a nomination letter that Bryan plays a big role in the wrestling program’s success. “He takes tremendous pride in the Friedman Wrestling Center’s cleanliness and is an example of a great work ethic for our student-athletes every day. His hard work and dedication are extraordinary.”
Koko Oo has worked in Building Care since 2013. “He exceeds all expectations set before him and does so with a kind, happy and positive attitude,” Lockwood said. An assistant dean in Hans Bethe House noted Oo goes “above and beyond,” even in tough situations. “The fact that he pays attention to the little details and works hard to maintain our spaces really creates a living environment that fosters growth and learning,” the assistant dean wrote.
Darlene Rennells has continuously performed beyond expectations to provide her customers with the best service, Lockwood said. “She continues to show us in every way possible,” Lockwood said, “that achieving your best is a decision you make within yourself.” Rennells was recognized especially for her work ethic, customer service and pride in her work.
The winners of the 2020 and 2021 Bartels Awards were also recognized, as the awards event those years took place virtually.
The event honored recipients of the Bartels Scholarship, which now include support for professional education, such as emergency medical technician certification.
Philip H. Bartels ’71 and Katie Bartels ’06, whose family sponsor the awards and scholarships, were in attendance to thank the custodial staff, especially for their dedication to keeping the university safe and clean during the pandemic.
“This department is, without question, a backbone if not the backbone of the entire university,” Phil Bartels said.
“You are our heroes,” Katie Bartels said.
Brandon Cornell was among the hundreds of building care professionals who attended the event. “Sometimes our work goes unnoticed,” he said, “and it’s good that we have these awards presented to us.”