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Students, staff remember custodian's contributions

By Hillary Brady
On October 21, 2011


University of Rhode Island students, faculty and staff alike are mourning the loss of Cynthia Spencer, 53 of Exeter, a Wiley Hall custodial worker who passed away unexpectedly in the building on Oct. 14—a friendly woman whom many remember as brightening the day of everyone she encountered.

Spencer came to URI in 2003, where she initially worked for Dining Services, before moving to the Department of Housing and Residential Life in 2007, Manager of Dining Tom Cronin said.

"She was a real pleasure to have," Cronin said. "She worked really hard. We enjoyed having her. She was a hard worker and everyone really liked her."

After transferring to the custodial staff at Wiley Hall four years ago, Spencer made an impression as someone who went above and beyond her job description and made the students feel at home.

"As part of the house staff, we want [custodial workers] to interact with the students; they're one of the people that students can go to if they ever need anything," Associate Director of the Department of Housing Jeff Plouffe said. "Cynthia exemplified that."

Plouffe described Spencer as a "gregarious, vivacious" individual, who would come in to her shift a half hour early just to spend the extra time talking to students  before they left for class.

"She had as strong a relationship with the students as the [Resident Assistant] have with the students," Plouffe said.

Plouffe said Spencer worked closely, and formed friendships, with the entire custodial staff during the summer breaks, when the staff works together to clean all of the buildings in preparation for the fall semester. At the onset of classes, the custodial staff is broken up into designated, remote locations throughout campus.

However, Spencer was always quick to make Wiley Hall residents and staff feel right at home—even knocking on students' doors to introduce herself and welcome them to the building on move-in day, Plouffe said.

"The students would be in class and she'd go in and clean their apartments and leave them a bowl of candy," Plouffe said.

That same attitude extended to the building's RA's, who Plouffe said Spencer would always ask if she could help out throughout the day.

Graduate Assistant Hall Director for Wiley Hall Brenden Cologna, who met Spencer this past August, echoed this sentiment, saying that Spencer always "took care" of the RA's.

"She was a wonderful lady to have around," Cologna said. "If there was ever a problem going on in the building, she would help us out no matter what it was. She was a joy to be around every day."

Cologna said he remembered one instance when he came into the Wiley office to find that Spencer had decorated it for the RA's—complete with a fall theme, with Halloween decorations, leaves on the windows and candy corn. 

"She exemplified what all our housekeeping staff should be—another resource for residents in their building," Plouffe said.

A testament to the impact Spencer had on the student body was evident at her funeral service this past Monday night, Plouffe said, where the custodial staff and several Wiley Hall residents, including Cologna, were in attendance. 

"My lasting memory of her would be her dedication to the building and the students that lived here," Cologna said. "She was a great asset to have around and she'll be dearly missed."

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