Mike Starmer has been chasing down coal dust for 20 years. As the custodian in charge of the Combined Heat and Power Building, he still finds dust in the facility from the coal that used to power campus. He gets rid of it by sweeping and dust-mopping the building every day, starting at 5 a.m.
With an indoor temperature that can reach triple digits, it’s one of the most difficult buildings on campus to take care of, said Brenda Conklin, associate director of Building Care.
“It’s extremely loud, high pitched – you have to wear earplugs and a hard hat at all times,” she said. “There’s no elevator, so you are literally going up and down stairs all day. You have to have good cardio or you’re not going to make it over there.”
Despite these challenges, Conklin said, Starmer is proactive, adaptable and performs his work with the highest level of attention and care. “It’s a challenging area,” she said. “He’s the best person for that position.”
Starmer was one of six staff recognized for their outstanding dedication to their work, at the 2023 Bartels Awards for Custodial Service, held Dec. 7 in Bartels Hall. The event honors the nearly 430 staff in the Building Care Department, part of Facilities and Campus Services.
Building Care staff perform a wide range of duties that provide a clean, safe and environmentally stable campus. They clean, dust, mop and disinfect bathrooms, classrooms, offices and miles of hallways; remove trash and recycling; set up and break down tables, chairs and more for events; and safely deal with hazardous substances such as blood, vomit and broken glass.
A Bartels Award acknowledges the “vital” relationships the recipients cultivate in their work, said Stephen Devlen, director of Building Care, who thanked the staff for their strong work ethic and for keeping university buildings clean and safe for the Cornell community.
“It’s truly about one’s attitude toward the work, toward the Cornell public that we serve and, perhaps more importantly, toward their co-workers,” Devlen said. “Our culture of caring for others and supporting each other … manifests into superior service.”
Winners of the Bartels Awards are chosen by a panel of judges based on their nomination letters, duration of employment, 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 other awardees:
Lisa Miller has worked at Cornell for 16 years and currently takes care of Bailey Hall. She is a valuable team member and makes a positive impact on her team, said Hazel Hall, associate director of Building Care. “She is a hard worker who always goes above and beyond to meet the goals set by the department,” Hall said. “She is detail oriented, which can be a challenge due to the vast amount of student traffic that comes in her area.”
Shawn Sargent, a five-year employee at Cornell, is “extremely focused” on doing the best job possible, Hall said, as he leads the care of several buildings throughout campus on the third shift. He often cleans areas at the end of his shift that haven’t been attended to in a while. “His tremendous attitude has served him well. He has the respect of staff for his wonderful sense of humor and his work ethic,” Hall said.
Jason Landon, who works at Phillips Hall, has worked at Cornell for 18 years. He wants to learn everything he possibly can about the job, Conklin said. One of his co-workers described him as “having the ability to motivate others by acting and leading by example,” she said. “He is always willing to fill in or go out of his way to make sure every detail is taken care of, going above and beyond expectations.”
Patty Sharpe, who works in Hollister Hall, consistently provides extraordinary customer service, demonstrating great knowledge in all aspects of her job, and brings a positive attitude to her workplace, Conklin said. “She exemplifies the very essence of exceptional service and dedication,” Conklin said. “Her performance is nothing short of outstanding.”
Chris Brewer has been employed at the university since 1995 and works hard for every student, said Cindy Lockwood, associate director of Building Care. When the Law School’s custodial team was short staffed, he offered to help and changed his schedule to do so, she said. He leads the care of several North Campus residence halls and was instrumental in getting them ready to house students. “He’s a key player on the team and excels in his position,” Lockwood said.
Also announced at the event were recipients of the Bartels Scholarship, awarded to building care employees and their children to support undergraduate and technical education.
One of Starmer’s three daughters, Nicolette Starmer, was a recipient of one of the eight scholarships awarded. She will graduate in January from Loyola University with a bachelor’s degree in environmental policy. She hopes to attend Cornell for graduate school, her parents said.
Philip H. Bartels ’71 met Nicolette in 2022. A subsequent conversation with her parents, Mike and Alice Starmer, about their daughter’s academic plans prompted Bartels to announce that he and his wife, Susan, would expand the Bartels Scholarship to include two years of support for graduate education.
“This department is, without question, a backbone of the entire university,” Philip Bartels said. “We thank you from the bottom of our hearts. It’s such a privilege and honor to be associated with you good folks. Thank you for what you do every single day.”