Oscar Dantzler
Oscar Dantzler

Change Agents

Five veterans, five jobs, five different experiences
Writer: 
April 29, 2014

They are the Perennials. Not a silky smooth doo-wop group, but the longtime employees who keep Duke running. Year after year they pick up the trash, help with IT problems, make sure club sports are run properly, set schedules for department heads, work the switchboard. Like mid-level workers everywhere, they are the people who keep the wheels turning and the engine running smoothly. Some have been around since Terry Sanford was university president. All have seen the changes Duke has undergone over the years. They’ve watched construction boom, students come and go, and Durham become a destination city known for its hip style. They’ve stayed through it all.

 

Oscar Dantzler

University housekeeping at Duke Chapel, at Duke since 1997

What he does: Mop floors, dust, clean, straighten chairs; I keep the building [Duke Chapel] clean.

Easiest and toughest parts of the job: The easiest part is meeting the people and being around this building. The toughest part is when my babies, the students, graduate, because I get very attached to them.

Then and now: Seeing I am a black American, I actually see more black kids out here now. I’m seeing more Asians, even Hispanics. In that part, I have really seen a difference in my seventeen years.

The students: A lot of them just come in to pray and meditate; they might be stressed out. The first thing I ask them: “Do you want to see a minister?” “No.” “Then talk to me.” And once they talk to me, everything is fine. [They talk about] making friends, being away from home; some of them are from small towns, and it’s hard to adjust, and they think they just need to go out here and make friends. And I say, “You’re not here to make friends, you’re here to get your life started, get an education.” And I’m not bragging, but once they meet me, everything goes smoothly, because I tell them, I’m going to keep my eye on you, and if I see you doing something wrong, I’m gonna tell you.

When not working: Fishing. Large-mouth bass. I don’t eat fish, don’t allow them in my house. I’ll throw them back. When I was raised up, my mother used to fish all the time. While she was fishing, you knew what you were gonna eat for supper. If any was left over, we ate it for breakfast, and if there was more left over, she put it in a brown bag, and we took it to school for lunch. So, no fish for me. I’ve had enough fish.

 

Pamela Ladd

Executive assistant, Sanford School of Public Policy, at Duke since 1976

How she got the job: I had an aunt who worked at Duke, but I knew nothing about where she worked. So I decided to put in an application, filled out a form, took a typing test. This was for a clerical job. Within a couple of hours I got a phone call from the head woman at the employment office, and she wanted me to come in. I had put on my application that my aunt worked here, and she knew her personally.

What she does: I consider my job to be anything I can do to allow Joel [Fleishman, professor of law and public policy; director of the Samuel and Ronnie Heyman Center for Ethics, Public Policy, and the Professions; and director of the Center for Strategic Philanthropy and Civil Society] to do what he does. I handle Joel’s schedule, as much as I can. He travels an enormous amount. I do plan his travel. I schedule his office appointments, handle calls, do reports, and represent him when he is away. I formulate the budget and manage the grants and funds for the office.

Then and now: Technology is the key difference. It’s amazing now how far we’ve come in such a short period of time, because when I came into Duke, I had a memory typewriter, and that was cutting-edge. And when I was in the president’s office, I got one of the first computers on campus; it was actually a word processor. Then when I went to work with Joel, we had one of the first fax machines; people were coming from all over to use it. The volume of work we’re able to do, and the pace, is the biggest change.

The students: Maybe it’s where I work, in the public policy school, I see the students who come through the office as being, I think, more concerned about the world. They are more aware of global opportunities and needs, and many of them have their minds and hearts to do something about these situations. If you could change anything about Duke: When there is severe weather, and the university closes, Duke wouldn’t take my vacation time to cover it.

When not working: I am a sports fan, and I enjoy going to games, as well as watching them on TV. I have tickets to Cameron. Around ’90, ’91, I put my name on the waiting list for Cameron. And seventeen years later, I got a phone call one morning, and lo and behold, we had worked our way to the top. I am very involved in my church, and there I teach four and five-year-olds choir.

 

Alonzo Felder

IT analyst, Trinity Technology Services, at Duke since 1984

How he got the job: My wife and I were doing mission work in the Virgin Islands, and a friend had moved to this area. So when we decided to come back to the States, he said, “Why don’t you come up to Durham for a twoweek vacation and just sort of chill?” I came, liked what I saw, put in an application at HR, drove back home [to St. Petersburg, Florida], got to the driveway, and my mom walks out of the house and says, “Somebody from Duke just called you.” I immediately got on the phone, and a woman said she wanted to interview me. And I said, I just drove eighteen hours from North Carolina, is this a real possibility? And her response was, “I guarantee you if you drive back to North Carolina, it will be worth your while.” So I turned around and drove the eighteen hours back, interviewed, and I had the job.

What he does: I am the first line of support for all of the users for Duke Global Health. If you’re having issues with the purchase, setup, installation of hardware or software, or operation of hardware or software, that help desk comes in. Global Health tries to address health disparities throughout the world. We have affiliates and projects in India, Africa, Asia, and more, and here locally.

Then and now: In 1984, ’85, up until the ’90s, Duke had a feel of almost a mom-and-pop kind of shop. Many of my analyst coworkers had served as babysitters for my small children. We had babysat their kids. We were very much involved in each other’s lives. The biggest change I see has been the paradigm shift from “we are family” to “we are cogs in a wheel.” I understand it, and I understand the necessity for it, but it doesn’t feel the same.

He’s proud of: My day-to-day helping people. I get a buzz because at the end of the day I can go home and know that I helped you, and you were able to get your work done, so I feel good about it. For me, if I can use my skills to help a project along, then I feel like I’m a part of that project.

 

Michael Forbes

Sports clubs director, at Duke since 1982

How he got the job: I moved to Durham from Kentucky with my wife, who got a research job at Duke. I was teaching middle school in Chapel Hill when a job opened as assistant men’s track coach at Duke. (I had been an assistant coach at Western Kentucky University.) In 1984, I became head of women’s cross country and track and field, and did that until 1997. It had become a strenuous situation—I was gone on track meets or recruiting thirty-six weekends a year, so I kind of made the decision that it was time to get out of coaching. I was then hired as assistant club sports and recreation director, and I am now director of sports clubs and risk management.

What he does: We have 1,300 students participate in sports clubs, thirtyseven different clubs that range from fifteen to 130 members. They come up with the ideas and the money, and I have to make sure they do things properly. I spend maybe two to three hours a day just talking to kids—their dreams for their clubs, how they can manage their clubs, personality problems they’re having, how they get kids to commit.

A particularly good day: Last year my cycling team won nationals. I worked with the president of that club for four years, and he had gone from a club with four kids to winning nationals. This is what it’s all about. Helping these kids get to where they can achieve their dreams.

If you could change anything about Duke: Duke likes to say it’s the best, and I don’t think it’s really committed to being the best. Duke is sometimes too concerned with the image rather than the reality.

 

Maria Burt

Financial care counselor, Department of Psychiatry, at Duke since 1983

How she got the job: I started off working in Wallace Wade [in food service]. I did waitressing, serving, cash management, ordering, stuff like that. We transferred over to the Center for Living, and in ’99 they decided to contract out, so I was laid-off status for about a month. Then I applied for a front-desk position here. I had no computer experience, so I was denied that job, but there was an opening for switchboard, and I got my foot in the door here. I started off as a switchboard person, and after a couple of months, I got into the front desk.

What she does: Work the switchboard, covering the front desk, covering triage calls for the nurse. Everything that I have my hat in, because I’ve had four different positions here, I still do. We deal with insurance, getting benefits, check on a bill for [the patients], settling their accounts.

Then and now: It’s larger now; they’re constantly growing. There are two different [computer] systems here; technology has changed. Working in food service, when I first started out, it was like family, like home. It was just a warm atmosphere. Then they did go more business, and I noticed a difference. It went from warm and fuzzy to business, and I saw that. What she likes about her job: I’m learning, which is what I like. You’ve got to keep the brain going. Whatever I can learn to keep my brain functioning keeps me happy.

The patients: When somebody’s in a bad mood or had a lot of anxiety, you kind of read them; you want to get them to where they need to be as soon as possible. You can tell when somebody is antsy, upset; you can see the body language, so you try to help people. This is an outpatient clinic; you check them in for their appointments. We have therapy sessions here, group therapy; we also have research. I’ve also been known to give a hug or two.

When not working: I have a group of friends, we’re called The Caribbean Girls, and for the past five years the first trip was to Mexico. We went to Playa del Carmen. We had a friend who had a time share, so we did Mexico, we did the Dominican. Then one of them decided to get married, so we did the Dominican again. I’ve done that, which I love. I’ve done cruises; I’ve done Vegas. Playa del Carmen is a shopping mecca to me. The guys come on the beach, and for a cerveza and a slice of pizza, you get bracelets.