"Over the next year, then, I plan to undertake some remedial education in the full range of skills, tasks, and jobs that are essential to the life of Hendrix College but seldom get the spotlight in web pages or press releases or commencement talks. Once
every month I plan to "shadow" members of the College staff, spending some time to learn about them, their positions, the roles they play in our community, and those aspects of what they do that keep them coming back to work every morning. I do hope to
get a fuller sense of all the individual contributions and commitment that go into making Hendrix such a special place."
– From President Tsutsui’s blog, Bill’s Hendrix Odyssey
President Tsutsui celebrated the arrival of spring on the Hendrix Campus by working with the Facilities Management Grounds Crew to spread pecan shells in the Pecan Grove outside Hulen Hall. He came dressed for work in blue jeans, a plaid shirt, Hendrix hat and heavy gloves. Facilities provided a
large shovel and nature provided a great day for some outside work – blue skies, moderate temperatures, and soft breezes.
The president worked with a crew led by Lee Price, assistant supervisor, who has worked at Hendrix for 14 years. Other team members were Wayne Jackson, Facilities Staff/Grounds, and Derven Sturgeon, groundskeeper. And, Facilities staff members Caleb Hurston and Eric Plemmons stopped by to
help get the job done.
Lee gave President Tsutsui a good evaluation for his work: “He just got right in there and went to work,” she said.
Pecan shells were brought to the site in small work trucks that run on campus sidewalks and the team shoveled them over the ground, giving a thick coating of shells to the soft earth. In addition to shoveling shells, the president also helped pick up a load from the mountain of shells delivered
for the College’s spring spruce-up work.
He learned that
Lee described the best part of her job as “when you get something done and you can see your accomplishments. Then you see parents come by and they say ‘what a beautiful campus.’ That makes the work worthwhile.”
“I never imagined myself throwing around pecan shells, and I certainly never imagined it being as much fun as it was with Lee, Wayne, and Derven,” President Tsutsui said. “I was impressed by the pride the crew all showed in the beauty of our campus and
struck by how much work they have to do every day to keep Hendrix green, clean, and welcoming.”
If you called the main Hendrix number on a Wednesday morning in February and a male voice answered, that might have been President Tsutsui. He took a turn answering the phones when he shadowed Switchboard Operator Liz Larson to learn more about her job and how Hendrix looks from her angle.
Liz was complimentary of the president’s switchboard talents. “He did a super job … he could moonlight as a switchboard operator,” she said. “It was a great experience to get to know him and see that he is interested in learning what we do. I’m very appreciative of that.”
One of the things President Tsutsui learned about Liz’s job is that it involves a lot more than answering the phones. In fact, juggling all her other duties while answering the phone is a daily challenge. The president logged some experience making student ID cards, helping with lost and found
items, checking out games, and interacting with students and guests at the information desk.
He quickly realized that managing all these small tasks, while being the “voice of Hendrix” to the public requires a special person with a good sense of humor and an ability to sound upbeat and positive, no matter what is going on around her.
Liz draws on her theatre arts degree (Hendrix Class of 1986) and the positive energy she gains from the students to keep herself in an upbeat mood.
“I have to remember that I may be answering a question I’ve been asked 5,000 times before – but it’s the first time this person is asking it,” she said. “Hendrix students are fabulous 99 percent of the time and so polite. That keeps me up and buoyant.”
President Tsutsui experienced Hendrix from a whole new vantage point when he spent a couple of hours patrolling the campus with Public Safety Officer Russell Clarke on a crisp January evening.
After a drive around the perimeter of campus to check parking lots, the walking part of the evening began. During his campus tour, President Tsutsui visited boiler rooms, where Russ checked to make sure that the machinery was functioning as it should. The president also discovered a few
doors and areas he hadn’t seen before as Russ methodically checked to make sure that every place that should be locked was.
In the D.W. Reynolds Center for Life Sciences, the President met Snickers the python, some hermit crabs and a couple napping dragon lizards. He also checked out the elephant skeleton and accompanying display in the east lobby. In Ellis Hall, he encountered a student working late, making calls to
prospective freshmen, and stopped to enjoy a slice of pizza.
Russ, who has been a public safety officer patrolling the campus in the evenings for close to 13 years, shared some Hendrix history with President Tsutsui as they walked and introduced him to Captain Martin’s grave and a few other campus landmarks he hadn’t visited before.
President Tsutsui learned that:
Russ says he enjoyed showing President Tsutsui the campus from his perspective. He described the president as approachable, with a good sense of humor.
“He wants to learn as much about the campus as he can,” Russ said. “I appreciate him taking the time to come see what we do.”
“It was so much fun tagging along with Russ to go behind some locked doors and into basements and attics that I didn’t even know existed,” President Tsutsui said. “Everyone at Hendrix should be thankful for a Public Safety team that cares so much and works so hard to keep the
campus secure and peaceful.”
President Tsutsui discovered what it means to be part of an award-winning Dining
Services staff when he filled in at three stations in the Hendrix cafeteria during
a busy lunch-time on Dec. 1.
His work day started with a welcome from Mike Flory, Executive Director of Culinary
Services, and Trudy Taber, Front of House Manager, who was responsible for moving
the president from station to station so he could experience the cafeteria from
He began working at the cafeteria entrance, shadowing Cashier Linda Carney. After
a brief training session, he greeted students, faculty and staff as they came into
the dining room and swiped their OneCards. The president quickly got into the swing
of things and Linda said he was a fast learner. "If I want to take a few days off,
I know who can fill in for me," she quipped.
His next stop was the serving line where Martha Dayer, a long-time server known
to students as "Miss Martha," shared her tips on how to serve hot entrees and make
students feel welcome. She also gave him an "Excellent!" when he grabbed a cleaning
cloth and wiped up a spill to keep the serving area shining. President Tsutsui kept
his cool — and his smile — as the "lunch rush" began and a
line of hungry students snaked around the salad bar and toward the door. Trudy said
he performed well, clearing the long line in about 16 minutes.
When the rush subsided, he moved to his final task: working in the dish room
emptying trays and preparing dishes for washing. As the president settled into his
work, a cafeteria employee opened the door to the busy, crowded room and asked:
"Is the president in there? Is he really working?" Yes, he was really in there,
dumping leftover food, stacking trays for the washer and asking the folks who work
there every day about their experiences.
President Tsutsui has been a fan of the Hendrix cafeteria’s food since his first
visits to campus. Now, he has a personal perspective on the level of concentration
and attention to detail required from the cafeteria staff to provide a welcoming
and seamless dining experience to Hendrix students.
"If you ever thought it was easy smiling and chatting with folks while serving
fried chicken, swiping cards, or loading an industrial dishwasher, then you need
to think again," President Tsutsui said. "I was so impressed by how the folks at
the Caf make very demanding jobs seem effortless."
President Tsutsui joined Fred Baker, Associate Vice President for Enrollment
and Director of Admission, and Brett Carr, Assistant Director of Admission, at a
college fair in Little Rock to learn more about the work of the Admission staff
and the role of college fairs in student recruitment.
As part of their search for future Hendrix students, Hendrix admission counselors
attend more than 40 college fairs each year. Competing for attention with such well-known
institutions as Amherst and Yale at fairs in other parts of the country can be challenging.
But Hendrix was the institution drawing the big crowds in Little Rock. The College's
great reputation among Arkansas students was the main reason students were lined
up at the Hendrix table. But students and parents — especially the Hendrix alumni
among the parents — were also excited to have a chance to chat with the College's
new president, saying his presence was one more way that "Hendrix stands out from
Fred, Brett and President Tsutsui spent the evening asking prospective students
about their interests and goals, engaging parents in conversation. The president
met the sons and daughters of Hendrix alumni, Trustees and friends of the College.
He encouraged students to visit campus, described the College and its mission, and
talked about the things that first drew him to Hendrix.
The president fit into recruiting work so well that Admission is rumored to
have offered him a contract for the rest of the season. That's just a rumor, but
Brett really said: "Having him there was so helpful that we will never go to that
event again without three people."
"Who knew that working a college fair would be a full-impact, no-holds-barred
experience," Tsutsui said. "Even for someone who loves talking about all the great
things happening at Hendrix, meeting waves of high school students and their parents,
answering hundreds of questions, and keeping perky and smiling through an event
like this is mentally and physically draining. I'm so glad we have endlessly enthusiastic
and energetic folks like Fred and Brett out there introducing young people to Odyssey
and Shirttails, the Caf and Sword Club."
Monday morning started early for President Tsutsui. He met Housekeeping Supervisor
Cindy Brewer and the Day Group of housekeepers outside Martin Hall at 7 a.m. to
learn more about their work to keep student residences clean.
He came prepared to immerse himself in the experience, dressed in his green jumpsuit
with Greenzilla embroidered on the back. Cindy came prepared to put him to work,
starting with gathering trash, then then sweeping and mopping Martin’s first floor,
and finishing up by cleaning a bathroom.
Here’s what he learned:
“I never thought scrubbing out a dorm bathroom could be fun until I did it with
Cindy’s dedicated, upbeat crew,” President Tsutsui said. “They take so much pride
in what they do and are so good at it. I, on the other hand, clearly still need
some remedial training in dust mopping!”
President Tsutsui put on a green jump suit and learned first-hand about Hendrix students' commitment to recycling during new student Move-In Day on August 19.
Along with his wife, English Professor Marjorie Swann, and the College's new Provost Terri Bonebright, President Tsutsui worked with the Hendrix Green Team to gather used cardboard and other recyclables from students and families moving into the residence
halls. The team broke down boxes and prepared the materials for reuse, keeping a couple of dumpsters' worth of cardboard out of the landfill.
Working with the Green Team was a learning experience for President Tsutsui. Among the nuggets of wisdom he gleaned:
"It was a joy to meet so many new students and their families on Move-In Day, and it was inspiring to see the terrific work of the Green Team," President Tsutsui said. "Not only were they helping freshmen get settled (and recycling get in the proper
place), but they were educating us all about sustainability efforts here on the Hendrix campus."
"I've never met folks so happy and motivated about spending a day around a dumpster! What a great introduction to the spirit and commitment of our students at Hendrix," he said.
President Tsutsui spent a morning in late July working with Zena Davis, director, and other members of the Hendrix Post Office staff learning first-hand how mail makes its way around campus. His visit to the post office is part his plan to shadow a member
of the College staff once a month to learn about the people whose behind-the-scenes work keeps Hendrix functioning smoothly.
He quickly saw that the work of Hendrix Post Office employees is never done.
“Every day things keep coming. The pile gets bigger and you keep it moving,” he observed, watching Zena sort packages and letters for various departments.
When students return in August, the stack of mail will increase dramatically, and the Post Office staff will keep it moving.
Davis knows that even with cell phones and social networks to keep them connected, students still look forward to mail from home. She said she sometimes writes notes to students who don’t get a lot of mail just so they’ll have something in their mailbox.
“Small gestures like that show how staff members make Hendrix such a special community,” President Tsutsui commented.
His next shadowing stop will be with the student Green Team on Move-In Day for new students.
On this first (official) day at Hendrix, President Tsutsui joined Bruce DeLeuil,
the campus carpenter, as DeLeuil began his annual routine of going through every
dorm room on campus to make sure everything is fresh and functional before students
arrive in August.
"From the moment I arrived at Hendrix I began to see, as I never had before,
just how complex a college campus is and how many individual talents are needed
to keep it functioning smoothly," Tsutsui said.
Over the next year, Tsutsui will get an up-close look at those individual talents
and complex tasks on campus as he shadows Hendrix staff members like Bruce.
As Tsutsui suspected, the experience was enlightening.
“I learned that students stepping up on bureau drawers to reach upper bunks are
rough on the furniture and that nail polish remover will buckle the Lucite tops
on vanities,” he said.
Though the work of Bruce and his colleagues will be largely invisible to students
it is also absolutely invaluable, said Tsutsui, leaving the last word to Bruce.
"It's just the little details we gotta do."