Staff Q&A: Everton Swaby

Everton Swaby

Swaby sits at the wheel of the Zamboni.



Cashier and Zamboni driver, Class of 1923 Ice Rink

Length of service:

7 months (5 full-time)

Other stuff:

In his spare time, he likes to draw, and he hopes to pursue a career in art someday.

Photo by Candace diCarlo

Last fall, we told you about Start on Success, a program that gets University City High School students with learning and developmental disabilities on track for success in the world of work (Current, Nov. 8, 2001).

Now we’d like you to meet one of the program’s success stories.

Everton Swaby, a 2001 University City High grad, is a jack-of-all-trades at the Class of 1923 Ice Rink. Initially hired to do maintenance work, he has since taken on bigger responsibilities. After only seven months, he also serves as the cashier in the rink’s skate-rental booth and as the man who drives the Zamboni machine.

Rink manager Rich Robertson praises his abilities. “Everton came with us through the program last school season, and he turned out to be a great worker, and little by little, we’ve been teaching him the [rink operations]. He understands the business, and everyone loves him. He’s very dedicated and extremely reliable. I wish I had more of him.”

The most important job he does is driving the Zamboni. Robertson explained why. “Hockey teams do very intense drills that create troughs in the ice. If you don’t resurface the ice after these groups, people could get hurt or catch a skate in the ice.” Freestyle skaters also create pits in the ice that need to be smoothed out. The Zamboni smooths the ruts, removes the pits and applies fresh water in a process known as “cutting the ice.”

Swaby is somewhat shy and quiet, but in the course of our interview, he made one thing clear: The first step to success in school and at work is showing up every day.

Q. How did you hear about Start on Success?
Through a few of the teachers [at University City High]. One day they came and got me out of my class. I didn’t know what they wanted me for. We had a meeting in the school, and then I found out about the program.

Q. What did they do in the program that got you ready for a job?
We had to do paperwork, and to be in the program, I had to come to school every single day, have good grades and…make sure you do all your schoolwork.

Q. Did they have people come and talk about jobs?
Yes, that’s what they did first. And asked where [at Penn] we wanted to work at.

Q. And what did you say?
I had told them the hotel, but that spot was taken, so I told them Hill House, but I didn’t know what Hill House was about. [The job was in the Hill House dining hall, for Dining Services.]

Q. What were you doing for Dining Services?
What I used to do over there was clean up stuff. Sometimes they had me serve food in the line or unload trucks when they come in.

…I decided to quit Penn Dining and come over here to work because I liked it over here better. They wanted to hire me over at 1920 Commons, but I told them I didn’t want to work up there.

Q. What did and didn’t you like about working in Dining Services?
I kind of liked working on the [serving] line, but when you work there when it’s hot, the heat builds and you start sweating.

Q. I guess that’s not a problem over here.

Q. What’s it like driving a Zamboni?
That’s the first thing I ever drove. At first, when I first started, it was hard; then it got easy, and I kept on driving it.

Q .How does it work?
You have to put the key in first and turn it; then you have the button you push to start the Zamboni up. First you have to make sure everything is okay before you go out on the ice, like make sure the conditioner is all right and make sure there’s water inside of it. And make sure you have oil and stuff in the Zamboni.

When you cut the ice, it [shavings] comes up in the machine and then you push it in the big tank that’s in front of you on the Zamboni.

Q. How long does it take for you to cut the ice?
You’re supposed to have the ice done in 15 minutes. But sometimes I have it done in 10 minutes.

Q. About how many people come into this rink on an average day?
I’m not sure how many people, but it’s a whole lot of people. We have groups that come in—freestyle, public and hockey groups. [Penn and Drexel have hockey clubs that use the rink. The rink also has freestyle figure skating, hockey and public skating sessions, all open to the general public. And several West Philadelphia school and community groups schedule hockey sessions at the rink.]

Q. Do you want to go back to school someday?
Yes. In art.

Q. If you could talk to another student at University City High about Start on Success, what would you tell them?
That it’s a good program. You can learn a lot more stuff.

Q. And what would they need to do to get in the program?
It depends. [But] you have to come to class every day. If you don’t come to class every day, that means you’re not going to come to work every day on time.

Originally published on March 7, 2002