In 1990, Larry Mendoza saw an advertisement for a carpenter and painter position within the Facilities department at Occidental College. He said he was not actively looking for work at the time, but on a whim, he decided to apply anyway. In what felt like a matter of days, he had the job.
“I was not expecting to be hired. It all happened so fast,” Mendoza said. “And I never left.”
Since joining Occidental, Mendoza has become a beloved member of the college community and is known for his humor, generous cooking and positive outlook on life.
Every day, Mendoza arrives at campus at 6:30 a.m., an hour before his 7:30 a.m. shift starts. He said he likes to get organized, have a cup of coffee and settle in before the day starts. Mendoza said he has always been a morning person. He used to run marathons, and in 1988, he was working toward hitting times that would allow him to qualify for the Olympic Trials.
“I’m an early riser. For many years, I would run five to six miles in the morning. So my day would start at 4:30 a.m,” Mendoza said.
People who know that about Mendoza know exactly where to find him each morning, according to Jose Hernandez, the trades manager at Facilities.
“Go to Thorne. In the lobby. Do you know what Larry does? He stretches,” Hernandez said. “I remember walking in there. He has his arms and legs out, saying, ‘Hey Joe.’”
Once Mendoza’s shift begins, he said he looks through the work order requests, sorting out priority requests that either involve a potential hazard or a privacy issue. By 10:30 a.m. Nov. 11, Mendoza said he had already completed seven requests and had 10 more work orders he was planning to complete.
“We hit every building on campus,” Mendoza said. “And the students are our priority.”
Mendoza has a willingness to do whatever it takes to get the job done, according to Christopher Reyes, the previous interim director of Facilities Management. Reyes said Mendoza is dedicated and has pride in his workmanship.
“It’s that day-to-day hard work that really gets things done for the college,” Reyes said.
And the hard work does not stop there. Mendoza extends this dedication past his many work requests, Hernandez said.
“I used to be a supervisor in cleaning services. I would be loading up all the equipment and Larry would drive by,” Hernandez said. “He would say, ‘Let me help you.’ It wasn’t in his job description, but he wouldn’t care about that.”
Between noon and 1 p.m., Mendoza takes his lunch break. He said he meal-preps on Sunday nights, cooking his lunches for the week at home. Mendoza does not only cook for himself — he cooks an entire week’s worth of food to share with everyone, entire casseroles and dishes of enchiladas.
“I make enough food to share with my coworkers and they know that already — I am always willing to share my food,” Mendoza said.
Hernandez said that he has yet to work at another place where someone does what Mendoza does, not just sharing small snacks, like chips or candy, but full meals.
“I’ve been a recipient of that. Sometimes when I am rushing and I don’t bring lunch or I am hungry, I know that Larry has something,” Hernandez said. “This is who Larry is.”
After lunch Mendoza said he continues to complete work requests, whether that be fixing a broken window, painting a wall or most recently, working to remove a beehive near Swan. He will either repair an order alone or with a coworker, depending on the specificity of the request.
Hernandez said that Mendoza is an extremely encouraging person to work with, bringing fun, humor and positive energy to the Facilities department.
“Larry chooses to have a good attitude. He says, ‘I can’t control my circumstances, but I can control my attitude. He has helped me to have a more positive attitude,” Hernandez said.
Reyes said that Mendoza is a team player.
“Always open. Pleasant attitude,” Reyes said. “Everybody really loves working together with Larry.”
Mendoza said his shift ends at 4 p.m., and he often goes on long walks in the evening and heads to bed around 8 p.m.
“Everyone knows what time I go to bed,” Mendoza said. “It’s always been like that. When I was 20 years old, I was sometimes in bed at 6 p.m.”
Reflecting on his 30-year experience at Occidental, Mendoza said getting to know the student body is his favorite part of the job. He said his connections with students are long-lasting, he said, and alumni weekends is always a highlight for him.
“It is always a nice surprise to see [a previous class], when they show up and they still recognize me,” Mendoza said. “I do recognize them too.”
Hernandez said that praise of Mendoza is well deserved and long overdue.
“Guys like that, you know? People need to know about guys like Larry,” Hernandez said.