Distinguished Staff Award
Photograph of Cassk Thomas

Cassk Thomas

Custodian, Building Services

Nominated by Stephanie Grimm, NROTC Program Coordinator, Naval Science

Awarded 2017

Dear Distinguished Staff Award Committee,

Please accept my wholehearted nomination of Cassk Thomas, our Clark Hall custodian, for the Distinguished Staff Award. Cassk was introduced to me on my first day as the NROTC Program Coordinator in July 2015 as “our awesome custodian who takes care of us.” That turned out to be a severe understatement of Cassk’s role in our building.

I have worked in higher education for six years and spent the four years prior working in Facilities Services while in college. I have had interactions with nearly one hundred custodial service employees in three different states. Cassk is, by far, the best.

Often, departments are guilty of taking the services of our custodians for granted. It is a thankless job that asks much of those who perform it: repetitive bending, sweeping, scrubbing, and wiping. They remove the waste and dirt, the unsightly remnants of daily operations in a building. How often do we verbally or publicly recognize the work of our custodians? While it is commonplace to commend our faculty members for outstanding research or employing original teaching methods, to send kudos to staff members for innovative hiring practices or a successful presentation, offering praise for the effort that goes into consistently smudge-free windows and doors and pristine restrooms too rarely happens.

Cassk makes sure our spaces are spotless and sanitized, our bins are emptied, and our supplies are replenished. We, the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) units of Clark Hall, are not easy customers. Daily, our 300 cadets and midshipmen traipse mud and grass through the hallways as they return en masse from physical training (PT) outside. According to Marine Officer Instructor and University of Washington Assistant Professor, Captain Steve Stone, “As a Marine, I take pride in being up prior to sunrise and arriving at work before anyone else. I often fail at the latter due to the habitual punctuality of Cassk. When I arrive at Clark, I can always expect Cassk to be there hard at work with a smile on his face. Cassk does more than clean the building; he studies the patterns of the inhabitants to ensure maximum efficiency in his work. For example, Cassk typically vacuums early in the mornings to minimize the audible disturbance to the staff. However – learning from our patterns – Cassk, redirects his morning efforts on the days that we have physical training until after the students have tracked in dirt and leaves throughout the hall.”

In addition to six heavily-utilized restrooms, three classrooms, and 24+ offices and conference rooms, Clark Hall has two locker/shower rooms and three large student lounges that require Cassk’s attention. Cassk is incredibly proactive: He has submitted work orders for lights that were out before I noticed. By the time our officers reported an odor coming up from the floor drain in the men’s restroom, Cassk had already put in a request for a special machine that would resolve the problem. We are lucky to have someone for whom mediocrity is not an option.

The Naval ROTC Commanding Officer and Chair of the Department of Naval Science, Captain Mark Johnson, who has worked in various commands around the country and world, says Cassk is “hardworking, dependable, incredibly thorough, and one of the most helpful and pleasant people on this campus. In short, he is everything that this award is about. Despite working a second full-time job when he is not on campus, he frequently expends his personal time in identifying and following up on building maintenance issues in Clark Hall that are beyond the scope of his responsibilities. His sense of personal ownership is clearly evident in Clark Hall’s cleanliness and upkeep, and I very much consider him to be an important part of our faculty’s success in creating a great learning environment for our students.”

All three units have prospective students and their families, alumni, and guests on all days and at various times. We never worry about the impression our building leaves on our constituents because we know it will be an extremely positive one. It is clear that Cassk takes quiet pride in his work and it does not go unnoticed. The quality of his work is, in our opinion, unmatched, but that is not what distinguishes Cassk from other equally dedicated UW employees.

Cassk is a caring and involved colleague. MSgt Jose Ledesma, Assistant Marine Officer Instructor, appreciates that Cassk is “a compassionate and silent cheerleader for our Midshipmen. He’s been known to observe our workouts (behind Clark Hall), ask about physical testing results, and highlight the improvement of certain Midshipmen. He has mastered the many intricacies and oddities of military structure and jargon that can be frustrating to civilians and uses this mastery to easily communicate with our staff, faculty, non-commissioned officers, and students.”

His absence is noticed immediately, not because no one is vacuuming or cleaning, but because there is a void where normally there is a smile, a hello, a question about family or something we had previously discussed. For example, Cassk and I talk about books we are reading. (He always reads two simultaneously.) He likes suspenseful crime novels and thrillers, but he also reads cultural and historical non-fiction. We exchange recommendations and share our thoughts after we complete each book. These interactions, which are the norm, not the exception, make Cassk such a valuable member of our team.

Our building occupants are diverse. Despite some misconceptions regarding the uniformity of those who serve in the Armed Forces, we have both female and male commanding officers, our staff and faculty members reflect our students’ varied backgrounds and ethnicities: we are black, white, biracial Hispanic, Filipino. Our faculty, staff, and students embrace each other’s differences and have formed a tight-knit community within the UW community. Cassk is an important part of that community and is willing to contribute to our discussions.

Every day, we are grateful for Cassk’s sustained service to our three departments, our students, and our guests. We would love to see him acknowledged in the larger University of Washington community, though I am sure he would believe the attention unwarranted. Cassk Thomas is a wonderful person, a devoted employee, and embodies the values of the University of Washington.

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