Audrene Hill-Henson brings custodial touch to the stage for Amy Blue ceremony

L.A. Cicero Audrene Hill-Henson

Hill-Henson has been a custodian in Student Housing since 1982 and now leads a staff of three at Lagunita.

For the past three years, the Amy Blue Awards ceremony has been held in the central courtyard at Lagunita, and every year Audrene Hill-Henson is meticulous about getting it ready. Even after 25 years as a custodial staffer in Student Housing, Hill-Henson still demands that flowers be vibrant, grass blades be trimmed and paths be pristine.

But the finishing touch is when Hill-Henson carries the framed photo of Amy Blue from the custodial break room, where it is stored, to the brick patio overlooking the courtyard—so the warm smile of the woman whose life is being celebrated presides over the ceremony.

"This is Amy Blue," Hill-Henson said on Monday as she pulled the picture from atop the cabinet in the break room. "I always used to prepare for the Amy Blue Award. I knew Amy Blue. I did meet her when I first started here."

And every year, fellow custodians rib Hill-Henson that she should be the one walking up to the patio to receive the award and the chorus of claps from colleagues and the president himself, John Hennessy. Hill-Henson is Lagunita's lead custodian, but she insists on doing everything that the three custodians who answer to her do.

When the Department of Management Science and Engineering holds its diploma ceremony for its graduates in the courtyard—filling it with more than 1,000 graduates and their loved ones every year—Hill-Henson specifically asks to work that Commencement Sunday so she can prepare the space for the special occasion.

"The courtyard is her baby," said Teresa Riseborough," regional housing manager for Lagunita, Roble, Governor's Corner and the Lyman Graduate Residences. "She is sort of the hostess of Lagunita."

That is, in more of a behind-the-scenes way. Hill-Henson comes off as humble as pie. Whether it's cleaning the kitchen or windows, hanging curtains in dorm rooms or replacing rolls of toilet paper in the bathrooms, Hill-Henson does it all. "When I used to work Thanksgiving," she said, "I used to cook pies for [students] that used to have to stay and didn't go home."

Hill-Henson was raised in St. Louis, Mo., and first started working at Stanford in 1982. Her aunt, Lotti Kirk, was a custodian for 30 years at Roble and Lagunita, and she'd invite her niece out west in the summer to visit her on campus. Eventually, Hill-Henson left behind a job as a sewing machine operator that paid less than $2 an hour and moved to East Palo Alto with her two children.

Originally hired on as a temporary employee, Hill-Henson was offered a permanent position at the end of her six-month term. And four months after that, she was promoted to lead custodian, a job that includes clean-up inspections, answering phones and writing work orders. But again, she stresses that staff all chip in and do the same chores.

"Even though I'm a lead and they're custodians, I'm a custodian as well," said Hill-Henson, who oversees a staff of three. "Whatever they do, I do."

But when Hill-Henson comes to work on the morning of the awards ceremony, she won't have to lift a finger. Instead, that afternoon she will be invited to walk up to the patio and stand next to Amy Blue's portrait as one of this year's honorees. The award comes with a $3,000 cash prize and an A parking sticker good for the following year.

"When they called me, I was really shocked," Hill-Henson said. "It could've just been a plaque—as long as somebody recognized me."