Saying goodbye to the man in the navy polo shirt who’s been looking after Green College for 15 years.
The nature of student housing is that there is a very high turnover. Every year, students move in and out, some finished their degrees and off to greater things while others are just beginning to embark on their academic ventures. Through this continual ingress and egress at Green College, one figure has remained a constant for 15 years.
Danny Courchesne has been a fixture at Green College since 2006, known ubiquitously by his first name only. ‘Ask Danny’ or ‘let Danny know’ are common phrases heard whenever there is a problem in a unit, if, for example, a guest room needs to be cleaned, a smoke detector begins to behave strangely or a resident is moving in or out.
A soft-spoken man, whose neat appearance gives off a sense of tidy efficiency, Danny has been at the College longer than any other currently serving member of staff or resident. He has seen multiple principals, head chefs and waves of Greenies come and go. This summer, after a year of unprecedented ups and downs, it is Danny’s time to say goodbye to the College, which, as Green College’s principal Mark Vessey put it, “won’t be the same without him.”
“Danny is a model Greenie,” Vessey wrote to me. “He takes care of the people here, and he takes care of this place where we live, which isn't ours.”
Likewise, Green College’s vice-principal Clark Lundeen had only high praise: “Danny is peerless, plain and simple. Over the past 15 years at the College, there's no-one else like him to know and care for the finer details facility. He's looked at it up-close every day, the good and the bad, and when paired with his perception, proactivity and perseverance there's no-one else who can do what he does. We can only imitate.”
The last year and a half has been a strange one for Danny. When the COVID-19 pandemic began in the spring of 2020, Green College closed down completely. “It was not a challenge, but my job did change completely,” he says. “It’s changed a lot, the energy in the College.” When COVID hit, many Greenies moved out, quarantine space had to be arranged, residents were no longer able to gather together, be a community, in the way they were used to doing.
In fact, sitting down with Danny in the piano room on the bottom floor of Graham House to ask him about his years at Green, I am struck by the fact that in a year where isolation became the way of the world, this is only the second time I have spoken with him. The first was when my smoke detector began emitting alarming noises for no apparent reason and he’d promptly turned up to change the battery.
This is a marked change from the familiarity he had with residents before the pandemic. Before COVID, Danny would start his day by cleaning the office and the common kitchen used by all the residents. He would do this while all the residents would be eating breakfast in the Great Hall. “After that, I see practically everyone,” he says, “at least once a day to say hi, good morning, to ask me something to do, a light bulb is burnt out in their room, maybe I have time to change it, or you know. This is what I like in the College, we know each other very well. And 99.9 percent of the time, it’s nice people. So I really enjoy that for 15 years, because we don’t have this kind of energy in the other places.”
“It’s just a routine job,” Danny says, “But my day is, every day is different, that’s why I like it.”
Over the years, Danny has been caretaker, friend and confidant to many Greenies who’ve lived at the College. When I ask whether, sort of like a bartender hearing the woes of lonely drinkers, he’d been privy to the ups and downs of graduate student life during his time here, he smiles and chuckles.
“Oh yeah, some students, yeah, they start a PhD, they don’t think it’s as much work, so much reading. Of course, the chairs we see now are empty”—Danny gestures to the empty chairs around us where residents would normally have spent their days reading and studying but due to COVID restrictions are largely unused—”but books was on the table every day with reading for four or five hours a day and of course, I try to work around. If the rooms are busy, I prefer to not go there and disturb them. So yeah, students is the priority.”
After our talk, Danny takes me up the Graham House stairs, where there hangs a series of framed photographs from past Green College end of year galas. He wants to point out to me the faces of a few Greenies he remembers as being particularly friendly to him, including one resident from whom he sometimes received Christmas gifts, “like a bottle of wine, something like that, so it was very nice.” Despite having worked at the College for so many years, Danny only appears in one of these photos and there are some other faces missing as well that he hunts for without success. In the process though, he is able to recognize others and it is amazing to me that despite the number of students and residents he has seen come and go—most residents only stay at the College for two or three years—he can still pick out individual faces and names, sometimes even remembering exactly what they were studying or where they are working now, although not always as he is the first to admit with a smile.
Danny’s popularity among residents at the College is evident in the reputation he has around the community. “One year, I don’t remember which one,” Danny tells me, “it’s probably six years ago, they vote for few things in the College and they vote for me, and I don’t know what it’s for, and he said, ‘you’re very popular,’ and I said, ‘why I’m very popular?’ and he said, ‘people, you are the second [most popular] thing that people vote in the College.’ So, I said, ‘really?’ but I don’t know much that, so it’s just good things to know because people are satisfied.”
Danny worked at UBC for a year before moving to be the service worker at Green College. “I heard they looking for a service worker at Green College, Monday to Friday. And I know that manager who take care of Green College, so I call her and I leave a message and two days after they give me the job,” he says humorously. “You want it, you get it. I was surprised but I accept the job, accept the challenge. It was a big challenge, to cover all of it.”
When I ask Danny if he feels a certain pride, looking around the College, for his part in making it a beautiful home, in caring for the College over so many years, his answer is quite emphatically yes. According to Danny, Green College is the most beautiful space on campus, but it could be even better. However, it takes time to make improvements, time and money. “We need to be a little bit patient,” he says with a chuckle. “We start slowly, because UBC don’t do very quickly.
The buildings themselves at Green College have gone through some changes over the period of Danny's tenure here. Graham House, the very building we are sitting in, has gone through some upgrades, having the flooring and painting redone, as have many of the units, particularly the bathrooms for which I am most grateful.
Danny will still be working at UBC and he is excited to move on and try something new. “But at the same time, I am very comfortable here,” he says. “I work by myself most of the time. Here it is free and they are satisfied with my job so no one bothers me. Mark and Clark give me a gift every year, and Mark has very good taste in wine.”
Danny will likely be back for a visit, once COVID restrictions are lifted at the College and life can begin to take on a normal shape again. I only hope, I tell Danny, that in the future he will be able to stroll the grounds at Green College peacefully without a single person asking him to change the lightbulb in their room.
“I don’t think they will know me very much,” he says, after an amused laugh.
By: Jane Willsie, Department of English Language and Literature, UBC; Green College Work Learn Content Writer, 2020-21