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Mr. Fix-it keeps Mills running smooth

Mills College Weekly

On a warm day in October, Joe Wilson is ready to be interviewed about his eclectic job as a maintenance technician at Mills, but first he has to grab a wrench. “I’ve gotta fix that door,” Wilson declares as he heads from the Tea Shop back toward a white truck for the tool.

As a true jack-of-all-trades for the department of facilities, Wilson is always prepared to take on the leaks and squeaks of campus. Once the door is restored to proper working order, Wilson settles down to chat about his 10 year career at Mills.

His work is nothing if not diverse. On this particular morning, he began the day by removing a dead mouse at the children’s school.

“They get the dead smell,” Wilson humorously explains, “and I’m the guy who has to retrieve it.”

With the mouse out of the way, Wilson stopped by Mills Hall to help rearrange office furniture for the Women’s Leadership Institute. After that, it was on to a roof leak at Underwood Apartments. In between, Wilson tended to the Sesquicentennial banners lining Richards Road, and responded to work orders for dorm maintenance.

“If anything falls apart at Mills, it’s my responsibility to fix it,” said Wilson. “Everything is different everyday. It’s a lot of work holding an old college together.”

Wilson is up to the challenge. With twinkling dark eyes, a mass of black curls escaping his baseball cap, and the affectionate nickname, “Joey,” Wilson hardly seems 40. His generous, approachable personality makes him well suited for the job.

“He’s the perfect person to fix things around this campus,” said Paul Richards, director of facilities. “It takes a lot of good spirit and ability to get along. You can count on him, he’s one of the people up here who makes it all work.”

A Bay Area native, Wilson stumbled upon his job at Mills a decade ago while doing some construction work on campus with an independent contractor. At the time, a former maintenance man was retiring, opening the slot that Wilson has occupied ever since.

“You know, 10 years later, I still love my job,” Wilson said. “I love coming to work.”

Much of Wilson’s enthusiasm stems from the support of his helpers: every afternoon his two young children arrive for the last half hour of work after his wife drops them off on the way to her job at an Oakland law firm. As a result, Brandi, age seven, and Jakob, age two, have become regulars on the maintenance circuit.

“They like to go with me on some calls,” explains Wilson. “We’ll pile into the van and go fix a lock or a window. I try to keep them away from the bookstore, though, because of the candy,” he adds with a laugh.

In addition to enhancing Wilson’s own work day, his children have charmed his co-workers as well.

“They are such great kids,” said Pat Ernesto, administrative assistant for the facilities department. “He’s just the best dad in the whole world,” she enthusiastically exclaims.

When they aren’t on campus, Wilson and his children can often be found on the ball field. For the past 10 years, Wilson has played with the Mills softball team, which consists of students, faculty and staff.

“Joey’s a team player,” said coach Mary Eno, of the mail and copy center. “He’s a team person; he always has been.” During the Friday night practices in Hayward, coach Eno also watches Wilson’s children. “They are really good kids,” she says. “While Joey’s playing they don’t get into trouble, they’re easy to take care of.”

During his tenure on campus, Wilson has seen some remarkable transformations. He remembers when Mills Hall stood condemned and empty after the 1989 earthquake, “like an old raggedy house just sitting there with cobwebs and creaky doors.”

Additionally, Wilson witnessed construction of Prospect Hill and the renovation of Olney.

This past summer, Wilson contributed to the remodeling of Orchard Meadow by creating 47 new window shades by hand. “We try to make everything we can in our shop,” said Wilson as he describes the impressive self-sufficiency of the facilities department.

Whether it’s fixing a roof leak, cleaning the gutters on Mills Hall, or tending to a student’s broken lock with his children in tow, Wilson is ready to take on the unpredictable maintenance work the college requires.

“I’m here for the students and anybody else who needs me,” he said. “Keeping this campus going is my biggest goal.”