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PUBLICATIONS Inside Illinois Vol. 25, No. 5, Sept. 1, 2005

On the job: Darlene Schweighart

By Sharita Forrest, Assistant Editor
217-244-1072; slforres@illinois.edu

Click photo to enlarge
Photo by Kwame Ross
Darlene Schweighart is a building service worker in the Housing Division.

Darlene Schweighart, a building service worker in the Housing Division, says her goal is to ‘make a difference.’ A passionate supporter of organized labor and of employee rights, Schweighart is vice president of the Staff Advisory Council and of Chapter 119 of Service Employees International Union Local 73. A 25-year employee of the university, Schweighart teaches a Sunday School class for 2- and 3-year-olds at Unity Baptist Church, which she enjoys because “you never know what (the kids) are going to say or do.”

Tell me about your career with the university.
In November 1980, I started in Operation and Maintenance Division (now Facilities & Services) working 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. In 1982, I transferred to Housing and have worked there ever since. My husband Bob is a building service worker in F&S; we met while working here.

I work 5 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at Orchard Downs, and I call it my retirement job. Right now, it’s hard work because of the heat. Orchard Downs is a different kind of atmosphere than the residence halls because it’s families and it’s quieter; it’s not so rushed and high stress. There’s more variety.

Right now, we’re busy cleaning apartments because we have a big turnover at this time of the year.

What do you enjoy most about your job?
I think the best thing about Orchard Downs is that it’s so multicultural. I’ve met people from Egypt, Iran and Brazil. I may meet someone in the laundry and get into conversations with them about what it’s like where they’re from. Even the cooking smells can be interesting.

Orchard Downs is not just a housing development; it’s a community. It’s given me a lot of opportunity to think about culture and culture shock and what it must be like to move somewhere and not know anyone. Perhaps one member of a couple may not even speak English.

It’s great to be able to really help someone. Sometimes just a smiling face or a ‘good morning’ can be something that someone looks forward to.

What’s the most challenging thing about your job?
Language is a barrier sometimes but not too often. Sometimes the weather extremes can be a challenge. Like right now, it’s so hot, and we just sweat. In the winter, it’s the cold. But I enjoy coming to work on one of those really cold mornings because at 5 a.m. it’s crisp and quiet.

What kinds of things do you like to do when you’re not working?
We are helping to raise our 9-year-old grandson Damien, who is a real joy. I have two sons. Our daughter Angela will be a freshman at Millikin University this year, and she’s been very involved in volleyball through Prime Time Volleyball Club and at Unity High School. We’ve gone to her games in Denver, Indianapolis, Kansas City and Minneapolis. Now we’re gearing up to travel to her college games. If there’s a football stadium nearby, we stop and take pictures because my grandson is a nut about the National Football League.

I watch way too much Home & Garden Television. Right now, we’re redoing our grandson’s room with a football/basketball theme.

I’m also an employee advocate and vice president of Local 73, Chapter 119. I think the labor movement is a great thing and it’s very important to me. I help employees when there are discipline problems or other issues arise.

I’m also vice president of the Staff Advisory Council and am the representative for employees in the service/maintenance area. You get to meet people you might not otherwise meet and learn how the civil service system works. We are holding the Faculty/Staff Expo Sept. 18, which showcases the services and organizations available to employees.

Have you got plans for what you want to do after you retire?

I never thought I would be able to tell somebody I’d worked someplace long enough to retire. I guess as much as I hate it, cleaning is my niche.

My grandson and I have decided we’re going to get dogs. And I’ll probably do cleaning at private houses. My husband says he expects to come home and find that I’ve repainted the rooms in our house every other day. I’ll probably finally have time to do all the creative projects my mind can come up with.

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