Residence cleaning heats up for summer visitors, fall students

Man in T-shirt and jeans moves wooden wardrobe in dorm room

Custodian Ken Meeder moves a wardrobe away from the wall as part of his deep cleaning of residence hall rooms, an annual task he's doing for the last time this summer. Photo by Angie Hunt.


As the elevator doors opened to a quiet second floor, Ken Meeder pushed his custodian cart across the hall and unlocked the door to room 2227 in Martin Hall.

Just days earlier, the Iowa State residence hall was bustling with activity as students wrapped up the spring semester and moved out for the summer. Now, the walls in room 2227 were bare, wardrobes and desk drawers empty -- nothing left behind by the students who made this room their home.  

After a quick assessment of the space, Meeder fell into his routine of dusting desks and wardrobes, wiping down the walls and moving furniture to sweep and mop the floors. It takes about an hour, on average, to clean each room. With nearly 5,000 rooms and apartments on campus, it's no small task.

But that doesn't seem to faze Meeder, a custodial lead for the department of residence. In his 24th year at Iowa State, the summer routine is one that Meeder and his team know well and approach with pride.

"There is pride, there really is. The areas where they work all year, because everyone is assigned to an area, that really becomes their pride and joy," Meeder said. "The staff really works hard to do a good job and believe me, they do work hard."

The magic behind the scenes

Planning for summer cleaning usually starts in January or February. Nate Wise, interim assistant director for residence halls building services, said that in addition to deep cleaning all the rooms after an academic year, his team must prepare for thousands of visitors staying in the residence halls this summer.

The turnaround begins immediately, which is why the custodial team spent graduation weekend cleaning rooms for ISU students staying on campus for the summer and for athletes competing in the Iowa Special Olympics May 16-18. By the time students and their families started arriving May 20 for Odyssey of the Mind's world finals competition, the custodial staff had worked 15 days straight.

And that was just the first two weeks of summer break. The department also hosts visitors for athletic camps, long-term academic programs and other special events. Wise said it wouldn’t be possible without the teamwork and dedication of the 102 custodians in the residence halls.

"When you think of the sheer numbers and the staff numbers we have, you look at it and think it's impossible for us to do this job. And the staff does it day in and day out," Wise said.

"They're dedicated to our students and the folks we have as visitors," he added. "They really are the ones behind the scenes that make the magic happen."

It's home

Despite the daunting to-do list, Meeder said he enjoys the summer months and what he feels is a "more relaxed atmosphere" on campus.

This is the last summer Meeder will spend deep cleaning and preparing the residence halls for fall. He plans to retire in November, just a few weeks shy of his 75th birthday. And after 24 years on the job, he said the residence halls have become more than a place to work.

"It's home,” Meeder said. "It's more than a second home. And with the years that I've been here, to me everybody is like my son or daughter or grandchild."