Keuka College staffer to be honored with Doctor of Humane Letters Sunday
Don’t expect George Slocum to settle in to a rocking chair anytime soon.
The Keuka College maintenance man may technically be retiring Sunday after 50 years of employment on campus but the word “retirement” is hardly in his vocabulary, let alone his character. He’s held his second job, a part-time shift cleaning the Keuka Park post office after working 7 – 3:30 daily on campus, for close to 35 years.
In fact, Slocum intends to keep his part-time job after he “retires” this weekend. He said he has plenty of projects to do on his own house, in addition to assisting his wife, Joyce, who underwent hip surgery in January. But taking it easy?
“I’ll see how my health goes,” he allows. “But yeah, if you don’t stay busy, you’ll get old in a hurry.”
Slocum does a lot of walking on the job – delivering mail and packages across campus, heading to his home on Assembly Avenue each day for lunch, and the multiple trips a handyman makes for tools and projects. But he’ll take a more imposing walk Sunday: to the front of the stage, to receive an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree at Keuka’s 103rd Commencement.
“It’s a very, very high honor for me,” said Slocum, whose formal schooling ended after graduation from Penn Yan Academy. “Back then, farm boys didn’t go to college.”
Back in April 1961, when Slocum – married, and fresh off a two-year stint for the U.S. Army – landed a job in the College facilities department, his starting rate was $1.30/hour.
After an initial summer as a groundskeeper, Slocum has worked primarily as a campus maintenance man, supervising general electrical, plumbing and interior work at three residence halls and handling all mail deliveries between the U.S. Post Office and the campus mailroom and copy center. He has seen College presidents come and go, buildings raised, renovated and/or renamed, and witnessed historic moments in Keuka and U.S. history.
When the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke on campus in 1963, Slocum remembers well the many tents pitched where Lightner Library now sits, helping shelter the large crowds, including many who had come from Rochester to hear King speak. He remembers the security detail too: two or three police vehicles just off of Route 54A, monitoring the main entrance to campus, and “two or three deputies up on Hegeman (Hall) roof, just in case. It was scary times in the country.”
While Slocum can’t recall exact specifics of Dr. King’s speech on campus, he said he was struck by King’s eloquence. He almost had a closer brush with the civil rights leader.
“I was supposed to drive him to the airport, but some faculty member stepped up and drove him instead,” Slocum said.
A tall man with a soft voice and quiet manner, Slocum is one of the few staffers about the same height as current College President Joseph G. Burke, who is also retiring this summer. Earlier this semester, Burke recognized Slocum with a special gift, presented before the Community Day gathering of faculty and staff, and announced that Slocum would receive an honorary degree.
Recognizing employees like Slocum is a pleasure, Burke said, especially because he’s never asked for it.
“He does his job very quietly, very effectively, very diligently – he’s hard working and he’s trying to serve others in the campus community. He’s somebody in the organization that may not be at the top but helps create a keen appreciation of what our college is all about. George is the epitome of that kind of person,” Burke said, adding that Slocum represents many other staffers who quietly do their jobs, come in early and stay late at night.
“He’s having a hard time dealing with all this,” Burke continued. “He doesn’t talk a lot, he’s a man of few words and that’s the kind of person I want to recognize and the students want to recognize. The students just love him, he helps everybody and he always has a smile on his face.”
Burke said that during his tenure, he has sought to understand the deep history of Keuka College in order to pass it on to students and staff. Not only is Slocum “like a walking history book,” Burke said, but he portrays a value sometimes lost in today’s America: sticking with a long-term commitment over time.
“He’s served under nine presidents and I’m just one small cog in this wheel,” Burke said.
“Presidents come and go, but people like George stay here. Very few of us will ever stay at this college for 50 years. We’re not going to see another George Slocum for a long time.”