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Stanford Report, April 26, 2000

Grawert learned a lot, and in turn taught many


The first time Herb Grawert arrived on campus, he was outfitted in "a fancy suit" and shiny shoes, thinking he was coming in for an interview for a handyman position.

He'd already been hired over the telephone, but Grawert, an immigrant from Germany, didn't realize it. "My English was so bad, especially on the telephone, I didn't know what they were saying to me." He understood enough to show up, and once here it sunk in that he had the job. He threw some coveralls over his finery and made it through the day -- without lunch.

Herb Grawert, who will retire at the end of this year, is credited with establishing the maintenance shop as a self-sufficient entity. (Photo: Rod Searcey)

Grawert ended up working here 37 years and getting what so many come seeking: an education. He learned English on the job (and by studying the action on televised Westerns). On weekends, Grawert, an electrician by trade, would visit campus buildings on his own so he could figure out heating, control systems and other new challenges.

"There was so much learning to do," he says. "I liked it so much here I stayed and stayed." He plans to retire later this year, leaving behind some mighty big steel-toed boots to fill, about three years' worth of sick leave and a shop he put together with workers he cross-trained in several crafts.

But those early years when he communicated best with lots of nods and head shakes are still fresh in Grawert's mind.

"Stanford took a chance on me and hired me on a temporary basis," he recalls. At Student Housing Services, he evolved into a lead man plumber, steamfitter and electrician, taking on decision-making responsibilities in absence of a supervisor.

Grawert is credited by his colleagues with establishing the maintenance shop as a self-sufficient entity. His crews handle problems that occur in 2 million square feet of student housing space. Before Grawert began taking custodians and teaching them several trades, student housing "was little more than a collection of lightweight fix-it guys without a lot of means, let alone a budget," says Frank Kloberdanz, technical services supervisor for Student Housing Services. The department had to wait its turn for overworked Facilities Operations crews to respond to requests, even emergencies.

While Grawert has been a supervisor and can delegate duties, he doesn't hesitate to roll up his sleeves to get a job done, a colleague who nominated him for the Amy Blue Award points out:

"One weekend students were arriving and a handicapped student was placed in a house that was not ADA compliant. The student was in a wheelchair. Herb went to the shop and built an ADA-compliant ramp on the spot to make the student at home and functional in his new home."

Energy coordinator Amy Richard says Grawert has taken the initiative to inform her about areas where systems could be operated more efficiently. "His tips have led to my design and execution of various large projects throughout housing, responsible for saving tens of thousands of dollars annually in energy costs," Richard says. She remembers that when a contractor left some lights inoperable, Grawert replaced them himself.

Regarded as modest, Grawert may be taking a leading-man role soon if his shop follows through on videotaping him touring building systems before he retires.

"Herb has never considered himself a role model, but his quiet, hardworking demeanor speaks louder than any words could ever express," says Phil Resch, manager of maintenance for Housing and Dining Services.

And while Grawert won't be cloned, Stanford's getting the next best thing: his 42-year-old son, Jorg, a carpenter who worked in the Department of Athletics for 13 years, will be training with his father and will take over some of his duties after he retires. SR