Jensen’s 40-year Journey: learning and working at LHS

Teachers and co-workers alike agree Jensen takes pride in his work.

Alex Zoellick and Gabby Struik

Libertyville has endured significant changes since the 1960s: Brainerd no longer graces the Libertyville skyline, LHS has since undergone several construction projects, including full-scale updates to the main entrance and the addition of the west gym. Teachers have come and gone and new students cycle through like the seasons, but one thing has remained the same: custodian Ken Jensen.

Jensen started as a student at LHS in 1968 and graduated in 1972; however, he didn’t get his job on the building and grounds team until 1975. Between graduation and taking the job, he took classes at College of Lake County and did typical neighborhood jobs — like mowing lawns and shoveling snow — but decided to join the LHS team after spending a summer working with them.

“I started summer work over at the old Brainerd building and I heard the guys had good benefits so I just stuck around and stayed,” Jensen joked.

Jensen’s run at LHS will come to an end around the same time the seniors walk the aisles of the Sears Centre. Though he has spent over 40 years here, many students probably wouldn’t recognize him, as he starts working once school gets out, not to mention most kids rarely stop to think about all the work that goes into maintaining the school.

“It’s such a thankless job. They basically are cleaning up all the mess we make during the day and making sure all the rooms are ready. Especially for the night shift because they never really get to interact with students,” said English teacher Ms. Dyan Naslund, who has known Jensen all 23 years of her teaching career.

During that time, Ms. Naslund’s classroom has been in the hallway for which Jensen is responsible. “The students don’t even know who they are and yet they are doing all this work every night: emptying out the pencil sharpener, washing the boards down, picking up all the scraps of paper from the floor. I think it is one of those things that we take for granted because a lot of work goes into the building at night, and we don’t see it,” shared Ms. Naslund.

At 2:30 p.m. every day, Jensen arrives to LHS, where he enters the school near the loading dock. He checks his assignments in the building and grounds office and heads up to his hallway around 3.

Jensen has a methodical nature to his work. After grabbing his garbage can and heading up the elevator to the English hallway, Jensen makes his way to his closets (which are located near the auditorium upstairs) and sets up everything he needs. He grabs his mop and wet floor signs, among other things. Starting at one end of the hallway in room 256, he goes through each classroom. He starts by putting the desks in order, then he empties out the garbage, and sweeps the floor and then mops the spots that need it. He repeats this for each classroom until he reaches the end of the hall, and then come the set-ups.

“[I love] the fact that he is so meticulous about his work. Every classroom in the hallway pretty much has a different configuration for the desks. He will not only remember what every room’s desk configuration is, but he will have the desks perfectly lined up on the lines of the tile,” Ms. Naslund said. “When I come in the blinds are always exactly at the same level, the erasers and markers are lined up on the railing. He is really detail-oriented and it’s great because every morning you walk in and know your room will be ready to go.”

Ms. Naslund is one of many teachers who rave about Jensen’s detail-oriented work. English teacher Mrs. Meredith Tarczynski, who has worked with Jensen for 17 years, admires all he does for the rooms he manages.

“With Ken, his work ethic is impeccable. When he manages the classroom, it is always precise. Desks are always in the same place that they should be, everything is clean. For my classroom that is full of clutter, that is a good thing! The boards are done beautifully,” Mrs. Tarczynski said. “I never have to worry about anything being out of place because I know that the classroom will be as it should be everytime he has attended to it.”

On the other hand, when it comes to set-ups, on any given day they could range from getting ready for a volleyball game to putting up tables for the blood drive. According to Jensen, the most annoying part of his job, outside the traffic when driving to school, is the surprise set-ups. The impromptu events make it hard to anticipate the needs of the facility to make the event successful.

His hard work and commitment to his job don’t go unnoticed. Several of his co-workers on the buildings and grounds team, including night supervisor Mr. Rigoberto Flores, have taken notice to Jensen’s commitment to his job.

“[Jensen] is one of the employees with the most dedication. He is very responsible and brings a good attitude, a passion for his job,” Flores said. “[He has] a dedication and commitment to what he is doing every day. He is someone who has maybe called in sick four or five times in the eight years I have known him. [I am going to miss] his sense of humor. He is a great worker and a great man.”

Jensen has an overall optimistic view of his work; he enjoys the time he has with the people close to him. Whether he is talking with teachers on their way out or spending time with his coworkers outside of school (in the past he and some fellow employees spent a fair amount of time taking trips to the auto museum in Volo), Jensen has made a clear impact on the people whose lives he has entered. He is a role model for the other building and grounds workers and what stands out most when he talks to teachers is his personality. The colloquial nature with which he communicates with others demonstrates the kind of relationships they have forged in their time together.

“Ken is one of the kindest, most hard-working men in the school. I don’t know what we are going to do without him next year and he is so friendly, always,” said English teacher Mrs. Mary Kate Schoenbeck.

Because of his inviting nature, many of the teachers at the school have a tremendous amount of respect for Jensen. One teacher in particular, Mr. Brian Twadell, has worked with Jensen for the past 17 years. Jensen started cleaning his room in 1998, when Mr. Twadell started at LHS, and has cleaned it every year since.

“He’s always in a good mood and happy; he just likes to chat with us, like we will talk about the weather or other things in our lives; he’s just a great guy to have around,” shared Mr. Twadell.

No matter the topic, Mr. Twadell had nothing but kind words to say about Jensen.

“He’s gonna be hard to replace, it’s just gonna feel like something is missing when he is gone,” Mr. Twadell stated.

Other teachers, including English teacher Mr. Christopher Thomas, also have been touched by Jensen’s presence throughout his 40 years at the school. Mr. Thomas pulls late nights when he is helping out with theater rehearsals and often runs into Jensen while he is on the job.

“He is outwardly kind and that’s apparent in your first conversation with him, so he kind of wears his heart on his sleeve,” shared Mr. Thomas.

With all that Jensen has done for the English department, the teachers are sad to see him transition into the next stage in his life and are hopeful his replacement can leave as much of an impact as he has.

“He seems to be the most detail-oriented person; he always has pride in what he does. Ken always has a positive word, a positive spin, a positive outlook, and that to me is something you don’t even see among the teachers, which you should,” said Mrs. Tarczynski. “I find that he of all people, should be rewarded. I hope that we’ll have someone who is as equally as detail-oriented and precise in what he or she does. He is so good that I am a little afraid.”

As the saying famously goes, all good things must come to an end:Jensen will be saying goodbye to LHS, his home for both school and work, in June of this year.

“I figured after forty years it is time to enjoy life a little bit. Some people want to keep on working, me, I just want to kick back and relax a little bit, enjoy life,” Jensen stated. “There comes a time where there is nothing wrong with work, but it is time to enjoy.”