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Truck driver’s campus career spans almost three decades

Bonne Marie Bautist

Every morning, many Mills students are awakened by a loud rumbling.

“You hear that truck every morning?” asks Ben O’Rilla, excited and energized on a cloudy Friday morning in the breakroom of Mills’ maintenance facilities. “You hear that truck as I drive by every morning? That’s me!”

O’Rilla has been a truck driver for campus facilities since 1978. He is responsible for garbage pickup, supply delivery and the campus recycling bins, a daily routine he has enjoyed for almost three decades. And he handles these tasks all by himself.

“I’m the only one,” O’Rilla says, “I’m the only one. If I don’t do garbage pickup every day, I get behind.”

O’Rilla is a humble 52-year-old jokester. He wears a clean-shaven face and tucks his white t-shirt into faded jeans.

O’Rilla’s commitment to his daily work is clear. For him, working at Mills is a matter of family and personal pride. His father, a retired army officer, worked at Mills before his son took up the job. It was also this same job that put O’Rilla’s wife through college at UC Berkeley.

“I was a newlywed when I started Mills,” he recalls fondly. “Now I’ve been married to the same woman 30 years.”

O’Rilla and his family reside in Fremont. He and his wife, an electrical engineer, have two boys aged 25 and 23 who attend California State University East Bay.

Before working at Mills, O’Rilla worked part-time at UPS transporting packages.

“That was a hard job,” says O’Rilla, shaking his head. “That’s why I like working at Mills.”

O’Rilla’s long years at Mills have allowed him to see the school change and grow. From an open Toyon Meadow to the brand new recycling program instituted this year, O’Rilla has delighted in watching Mills’ architectural evolution.

“Besides the buildings, not much has changed at Mills,” he says. “The student body seems the same to me: a bunch of women ready to learn.”

O’Rilla’s readiness to work has earned him the admiration of his coworkers.

“We all think highly of him, he does a very good job in a tough job,” says Paul Richards, director of campus facilities.

“He’s a great guy,” says Pat Ernesto, administrative assistant at campus facilities. “He comes in every morning, smile on his face, ready to work.

Luckily for Mills, O’Rilla says he’s never been injured on the job. In fact, he refers to himself as “injury-free Ben.”

“I been here 30 years, and I never got hurt,” he says and flexes his bicep muscle, a proud smile stretching across his face. “It keeps me healthy, keeps me young.”

Besides work, O’Rilla is a dedicated football fan (though he withholds comment on which team he’s a fan of to avoid upsetting any opposing team fans) who enjoys long walks and playing tennis.

But O’Rilla only indulges after work, often playing tennis at Mills, but not on this day. “I’m behind,” he said, gathering his hat and personal belongings. “I got too much to do.”