Editor’s note: During June 2008, the University of Iowa sustained the worst natural disaster in its history when severe flooding sent the Iowa River over its banks and into the campus and Iowa City communities. As the UI celebrates near completion of its flood recovery efforts this fall, Iowa Now looks back at that challenging time when thousands of faculty, staff, students, and volunteers joined forces to ensure the UI remained open for business. This is just one of many inspiring stories.
Bill Dawkins waited eight years for this day.
On June 1, he walked into the new Hancher Auditorium on the University of Iowa campus and studied the performing arts venue with the eye of a man now responsible for helping keep the 192,000-square-foot facility spotless.
He noticed the stainless steel elevators, aluminum railings, bare floors, white walls, and glass—lots of glass.
“I was in awe,” Dawkins says. “It was so big and so stainless and so white. I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, how will we keep this place clean?’”
For more than 15 years, before it was lost to the flood of 2008, Dawkins kept the old Hancher clean. He took pride in maintaining the building’s four acres of red carpet, polishing the front windows, and sweeping and mopping the stage floor.
But when the Iowa River rose from its banks and swallowed the UI arts campus that summer, the old performing arts building succumbed to the muddy waters. Dawkins was there the day the doors were chained shut, forever blocking entrance to an iconic building that had served as a cultural and educational resource for the UI and the people of Iowa since 1972.
“I was standing outside with tears in my eyes, and inside I was screaming, ‘No, can’t we at least try to save it?’” Dawkins says.
Today, the new Hancher, located just north of where its predecessor was razed in 2013, still sits along the Iowa River, but at seven feet above the 500-year flood level. The new building’s dedication will take place on Sept. 9.
When the old building first closed, Dawkins was reassigned to security at the UI Power Plant. Eventually, he was assigned to University Housing and Dining, where he was responsible for cleaning residence halls and Hawkeye Court Apartments.
Despite his reassignment, Dawkins kept his parking spot near the Hancher site and watched each day as the old building came down and the new one rose from the ground.
For eight years, Dawkins waited for his chance to return. He says there was never any question that he would apply to again be assigned to Hancher. When the opportunity arose, Dawkins was among the first in line.
“Hancher was like family,” he says.
Now, Dawkins, his supervisor Matthew McKindley, and two other custodians are responsible for keeping every square inch of the new facility clean.
Much of the flooring and winding stairs are made of terrazzo, a composite material sprinkled with chips of marble, quartz, granite, glass, and mother of pearl, which requires daily dusting, at the very least. Areas with carpet are kept clean with a nifty riding vacuum.
There are aluminum railings to wash, stainless steel elevators to shine, and wooden ceilings to polish, but nothing compares to keeping the glass and hundreds of windows clean. For that part of the job, Dawkins has various towels, scrubbing wands, squeegees, and extension poles that he uses to clean hard-to-reach places.
Good thing for Hancher, Dawkins’ favorite part of the job is cleaning windows. In fact, he can’t wait until his safety harness arrives so he can clean the windows from the outside too.
“I have no fear of heights,” he says. “I love it!”
McKindley didn’t know Dawkins before he began supervising him this year at Hancher, but in that short time, he has come to appreciate Dawkins’ work ethic and big heart.
“Bill is a wonderful person,” McKindley says. “He cares for the people he works with and for Hancher itself. In the short time that I’ve worked with him, Bill has done nothing but go above and beyond the call of duty.”
Dawkins says there is a symbiotic rhythm to keeping a building as grand and elegant as new Hancher clean, a sort of dance that requires a commitment from everyone involved. And he’s honored to be part of the team.
“Sometimes I just look around and think, ‘Wow, I really work here,’” he says. “It’s amazing.”
The University of Iowa will celebrate the dedication of the new Hancher Auditorium on Friday, Sept. 9. For details about the event, visit inspire.uiowa.edu.