Maintenance repair man inspires students at the Student Recreation Center

On the back wall of Marvin King’s office hang an assortment of handmade thank you notes, letters and drawings. Ask him about them and he will smile proudly, chuckling while he recounts his favorite tales of his last fourteen years working for the University of Oregon Student Recreation Center and reminiscing over the best young people he’s encountered on the job. @@[email protected]@

It’s the students that keep this 76-year-old maintenance repairman working eight hours a day, five days a week.

“That’s the only reason I work here is for the students,” King said. “I just love the kids. They’re like grandkids to me.”

In the maintenance repair domain, his specialty is fixing the rec center’s broken workout equipment. He was originally hired as the primary groundskeeper and maintenance repairman for the rec center, but as the facilities expanded, his job has become specialized in the field that he knows best: manual repair work.

“I find it rewarding to make stuff work when it breaks down,” he said. “It’s a challenge.”

As the youngest of five siblings who were all passionate about cars, he learned the language of mechanics at an early age. In the 50 years since, he has worked as a mechanic, machinist, millwright, construction worker and volunteer fireman, to name a few. In addition to his duties at the rec center, he is responsible for the upkeep of equipment and appliances in Gerlinger Hall and the Gerlinger Annex. The racks that hold medicine balls and body bars in the Gerlinger dance hall, for example, are King’s signature inventions.

Molly Kennedy, assistant director of marketing and communications at the rec center, has worked with him since he arrived at the university in the late ’90s. She believes that his technical skills are essential in keeping the rec center functioning smoothly. @@*[email protected]@

“He has a tremendous amount of skills in a variety of areas,” she said. “He is super talented, he can fix anything and he also loves working with the students.”

According to Kennedy, his bright and companionable personality also add to the social environment of the rec center, serving to humanize the gym.

“Marvin is a very special person,” she said. “He’s a real person and he’s willing to get to know people and he builds relationships not only with the employees, but also with the patrons who come to work out.”

Among the students King has befriended, Amanda Butt is one with whom he has grown especially close. Two terms after beginning work at the rec center last fall, he and Butt – or “Ms. Montana” as he has nicknamed her — are pals. She looks to her older coworker as a seasoned counselor and a friend, someone who can stand in as a parent figure while her own are hundreds of miles away. @@*[email protected]@

“It’s nice to have somebody who’s been around the block and who’s got some words of wisdom. It’s comforting,” she said. “He definitely is concerned about us. He doesn’t like to see us stressed out, he doesn’t ever burden us with his problems at all.”

In addition to King’s hands-on day job, he also pursues physical work of a more organic nature — something he calls “hobby farming.” In 1964, he and his wife built a house on a piece of property 16 miles west of the Eugene airport. With time, and the arrival of three children, he began to amass a collection of flora and fauna. He and his wife currently own four horses, over 100 chickens, seven ducks and over 30 varieties of organically grown fruit trees.

His current agrarian pastime is grafting fruit trees — most recently, a species of Appalachian apple that reminds him of his childhood in Kentucky.

“I like to go pick an apple off the tree that’s really ripe,” he said. “As far as quality goes, you won’t even begin to have the right quality until you pick one ripe off the tree.”

King expects to be surprised by the variability of his maintenance workload at the rec center on a daily basis in addition to fickle weather patterns that affect his agronomic pursuits. However, one thing in his life that remains a constant source of felicity are the students he meets at work.

“Fourteen years I’ve worked here, been around thousands of (students) and never had a problem with a kid yet,” he said. “(Students) are the most wonderful thing in the world.”

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Sami Edge

Sami Edge

Sami is the Editor In Chief of The Emerald. Former intern at Willamette Week and aspiring international investigative reporter. Swimmer, writer, dreamer, reader, thinker, explorer and drinker of strong coffee.