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Custodian committed since the beginning

Custodian committed since the beginning

On Tuesday, May 2, UNT custodian Maria Lopez stands on the upstairs track for a photo, her work place mapped out behind her. Lopez has been a custodian for the rec center since its opening in 2001, taking personal care in maintaining it. Credit: Katie Jenkins

Custodian committed since the beginning
May 31
23:33 2017

Omar Mir | Contributing Writer

UNT custodian works to keep others comfortable before herself

As the first ray of sun finds its way through the darkness of the night, the doors of the Rec Center unlock to welcome the early risers and workers who are ready to take on another day.

People stream in throughout the 18 hours of the day in which the facility is open. While Fridays and Saturdays are slightly shorter days, it certainly does not mean the attendance is any less. An average of 4,000 members of the UNT community walk through the Rec doors daily, leaving behind footprints, sweat stains and dirty equipment.

The entrance of the double-layered doors separates the outside world from this fitness mecca. Every morning, gracefully dodging her way through a stampede of foot traffic, Maria Lopez goes about her day. Along with her trusty vacuum cleaner, she goes to work on the carpets in the entrance like clockwork. Although she doesn’t speak much English, you can her humming songs as you pass by.

While some would be put off by peoples’ careless footsteps on the carpet or their hasty strides, Lopez isn’t.

“[I don’t stop] until my body says enough,” Lopez said.

Lopez is one of the many custodians at the Rec Center. While she works to keep the floors and treadmills clean, her life stretches on outside of the walls of the Rec.

“She’s been with us since day one, since when we opened,” said Chris Lawrence, Associate Director of Facilities. “She’s the only custodian we have here that’s been with us that long. She’s as much a part of our team as anybody else.”

Lopez has made her way into the hearts of many at UNT, but her journey to taking care of the Rec and getting to know those in it hasn’t been easy.

Lopez was born in Durango, Mexico to an agricultural family. As a child, she lived on a ranch and remembers her time there with a quaint smile. Her smile accentuates the multiple wrinkles on her face but still shows a glimpse of the young, impressionable girl that once gleefully ran around with her siblings before she had to move away in search of a new life.

Lopez was only 11 years old when she found herself on the other side of the border, working as a nanny at a house in El Paso. There she took care of seven kids, helping raise them while also growing and learning herself.

She loves taking care of kids, and boasts as a proud grandmother with 10 grandkids. When she’s not at work, she spends her free time with them.

“I wish I could take more time out to see them, they are growing up so fast,” Lopez said.

Eventually, the kids she nannied grew up, and so did Lopez. In search of more work, she ended up in Arkansas working at a poultry farm.

Lopez got married in Arkansas and had her first child when she was 22. After having eight children, her husband ran away in search of a younger woman, breaking her heart and leaving her by herself to raise the children.

The pain she felt because of her former husband is much too common from where she comes from, so she distracts herself from any negative thoughts by doing what she loves most.

At the Rec, she goes about her day, moving from one part of the facility to the next. There are hundreds of workout machines, several rooms for fitness classes, basketball courts, an indoor soccer facility, multiple swimming pools, elaborate locker rooms and bathrooms. Each piece of equipment and each room require her attention during her regular seven-hour shifts.

In addition, Lopez also spends her time making sure the administration side of the building is in perfect condition.

There is no area of the entire facility that is not covered during her workday.

“I think she takes pride in this place, just like the rest of us,” Lawrence said. “She has a very similar mindset as far as ownership of the building.”

Lopez is not alone in this her task of hygienic excellence. Her sidekick for the past seven years has been Walter St. John, a fellow custodian and friend.

“She’s a fast learner and a hard worker [because] she’s been in the cleaning business so long,” St. John said. “I never have to show her anything.”

While most people who work out at the Rec Center go home at the end of the day, Lopez only has an hour in between working at the Rec and her other job. Lopez works from 8 p.m. until 2 a.m. cleaning three more clinics around the Denton area.

Lopez loves working, and only has time to spare for her 99-year-old mother and her grandkids if she ever gets time from work.

But despite the hustle and bustle, she never takes a breath for herself – it’s always for the benefit of others.

“When I was young, we used to drink organic milk and eat natural beans from the farm,” Lopez said with a laugh, reflecting on her drive and ambition. She attributes her customs and traditions to why she works so hard now.

Lopez might not be the definition of the normal “American Dream,” she’s living her own dream.

Lopez said this has only been possible through two things – her hard work and the freedom to do so, following in the footsteps of hundreds of thousands of other immigrants who have come to find a better life in America.

So while students make their way to their cycling class or are jogging their stress away, Lopez is more than happy to assist in a way that may not be as commonly appreciated.

“I have no regrets,” Lopez said. “I believe whatever God has given me is enough.”

Featured Image: UNT custodian Maria Lopez stands on the upstairs track, her work place mapped out behind her. Lopez has been a custodian for the Rec Center since its opening in 2001, taking personal care in maintaining it. Katie Jenkins

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