The myth of the closed university


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Armenio Silva

Photo by Tommy Leonardi

Mike Neborak

Photo by Tommy Leonardi

Victor Marrero

Photo by Tommy Leonardi

James N. Johnson

Photo by Tommy Leonardi

John McGuire

Photo by Candace diCarlo

Ollie Jackson

Photo by Tommy Leonardi

An elderly man fell at 36th Street and Walnut. The day was Jan. 25, the day snow shut down the University. The weather nearly shut down the old man as well.

After struggling across Walnut, he could go no further. He waved for help. Nobody stopped.

But then along came Armenio Silva, in his snow plow. The old man knocked desperately at his window.

Heigh ho, Silva to the rescue. He called 911.

When snow traps some folks at home baking cookies, a hardy group of workers keeps the campus running.

Silva normally works at the new chilling plant for subcontractor AP Construction. “We work on pipes, but today we’re helping to clear the snow,” he said, as he stood waiting for an ambulance to get the old man, who was shaking with cold in a thin raincoat and Silva’s gloves. Silva fretted about the man’s condition until the ambulance arrived. Then he refused to take his gloves back. “I’ve got another pair,” he said.

Groundskeeper Mike Neborak hardly wanted to stop and talk. “I don’t have time,” he said. Gotta plow.

Housekeeper Victor Marrero, shoveling along Locust Walk in a rain suit and goggles, was one of two workers who showed up at Steinberg-Dietrich Hall. Usually it’s eight. But he wasn’t unhappy. “I love it,” he said of the snow.

Groundskeeper James N. Johnson had no problem getting in on the Number 10 subway-surface car. He expressed surprise that the University had closed down. “That’s a new one on me,” he said. He’d been plowing snow since 6 a.m.

Another essential employee, Housekeeper John McGuire, was keeping the access to Sansom Place East open. “You go out and see that (handicapped access) ramp out there, there ain’t no snow on it,” he said, laughing. “That’s how essential I am.”

McGuire’s 10-minute drive to work took him 45 minutes. “I don’t mind coming in on snowy days,” McGuire said. “I think the city’s beautiful when it snows.”

Also not minding the change in routine was Ollie Jackson, who had been guarding the entrance of Sansom Place East for nearly 12 hours straight. “But that’s because it’s an emergency,” he said. “One time before when the school closed down, they put us up at the Hilton. It’s not as bad this time.”

For weather emergency information, call 215-898-MELT.

Originally published on February 3, 2000