I remember about a year ago walking into a bathroom here at school and stepping into a puddle that covered the floor. Something splashed up onto my shoes and pants, and I felt my heart drop. I looked around, hoping to not realize my worst fears when, rising out of a toilet bowl, I saw a tower of toilet paper with water streaks lining the outside of the bowl; thankfully, it was just water I stepped in. But this wasn’t the first time I walked into a flooded bathroom at school, and it wasn’t the last time, either.
Teenagers love to break things (I’m definitely no exception). Still, whatever we break usually ends up getting fixed and cleaned up about a day later. We have the custodians to thank for that; we make messes, and they make them disappear.
Yet, not many students can name a single custodian. I wasn’t even able to name one prior to reporting on this story. So, I’d like to draw your attention to the unsung heroes of Oswego High School who make sure you’re not wading through toilet water on your way to class.
For 20 years, Maintenance Technician Cesar Zamora has worked at the school, making repairs to everything that needs it. For a while, he was the only maintenance technician, handling all repairs around the school by himself.
“I work in any type of repairing. Door, toilet, light fixture—any, you know?” Zamora says. He pauses briefly, and lightly shakes the table we’re sitting at. “This table,” he says with a grin.
Zamora moved from Nicaragua to the United States with his wife 37 years ago. Despite Spanish being his primary language, communication with students and staff alike is something he values deeply; without it, he couldn’t do his job effectively.
“I like communication with the students, the teachers for the problem. Communication is a number-one priority,” Zamora says. “The teacher problem, ‘Cesar! I need a favor!’ Absolutely! I take care of it right away, my friend.”
Whenever there’s a problem, Zamora fixes it as fast as possible. In the morning before the interview, he tells me, a student once again clogged a toilet by flushing toilet paper down it.
“I take care of it right away, my friend,” Zamora says. “I keep an eye on what’s wrong around the school, you know? If something is not safe, I go repair .”
He chalks up the students’ actions to them just having a bad day.
“Some days, the students very, very mad,” Zamora says with a laugh. “You know?”
Zamora has enjoyed every year he’s worked at the school, taking great pride in what he does.
“I love my job,” Zamora says, “It’s simple, what I do. In here, I do everything.”
While Zamora fixes, other custodians clean.
In a comfortably small office, I meet the Night Supervisor of Custodial Maintenance Ann Reiswig. As we talk, we can hear the sounds of lockers opening and closing in the locker room directly behind her office.
Like Zamora, Reiswig has worked in the district for 20 years. She has lived in Oswego for most of her life. She ran a printing company in Chicago with her husband for 17 years, commuting between the then small town and the city, before working at OHS.
“I always tell people, when we first started working together, we fought a lot because who was going to be the boss?” Reiswig says. “So, I told him, ‘I have to be the boss at work,’ and I’ll let him think he’s the boss at home.”
After selling the company, she began to work at the school.
“I normally come in at 12 and work until 8:30, but because we’re short, very short handed, I do work longer,” Reiswig says. She tells me that the maintenance staff at OHS is short two employees, and that she finds herself picking up extra work. I ask Reiswig if she ever feels overworked, to which she whispers, “Sometimes.”
“But I think we all feel overworked, because the vacancies, because we have a lot going on in the school during the day and the evenings,” Reiswig says.
Reiswig usually takes care of school events, cleaning and straightening up after each so the room is ready for the next one. She shuffles through papers on her desk and shows me a paper with dates and times printed on it. In order to keep track of what events she’s covering, Reiswig keeps a log on where and when they’re happening.
With the school’s campus covering a large area and less staff than needed, it can be a daunting task to keep it clean and orderly.
“You can get overwhelmed fast,” Reiswig says, “but I have a lot of support. I do have a good staff that will help me out on that.”
Despite the staff shortages, Reiswig still finds enjoyment in her job. She simply says, “Oh, absolutely,” when I ask her if she likes it here.
She also tells me a story about having to pull toilet paper out of a toilet. I ask if something like that happens often.
“It does happen quite often,” Reiswig says. “I do talk to the kids a lot, and I explain to them that this is being very disrespectful.”
For Reiswig, respect is the most important aspect of life.
“I always feel they should respect one another and respect the school. The majority of the kids really do,” Reiswig says. “It’s all about respect, don’t you think?”
Most students respect Reiswig and the school. They stop her in the hallway and ask her if she needs help with anything. Reiswig says that the Student Council and the football, basketball, and volleyball teams help her out with her duties. Every Tuesday and Thursday, the Student Council and other volunteers help her clean an area of the school while the sports teams help her with moving furniture and cleaning after games.
Both Reiswig and Zamora feel appreciated by the student body and their co-workers. They both show great care towards their work and, despite the challenges, they find enjoyment in what they do. Reiswig and Zamora are only two of the 23 custodians who work tirelessly to ensure that the students have a comfortable school environment. “It’s our job to do it,” Reiswig says, “so what can I say?”