The myth of the closed university


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 were 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 Silvas gloves. Silva fretted about the mans condition until the ambulance arrived. Then he refused to take his gloves back. Ive got another pair, he said.

Groundskeeper Mike Neborak hardly wanted to stop and talk. I dont 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 its eight. But he wasnt 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. Thats a new one on me, he said. Hed 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 aint no snow on it, he said, laughing. Thats how essential I am.

McGuires 10-minute drive to work took him 45 minutes. I dont mind coming in on snowy days, McGuire said. I think the citys 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 thats because its an emergency, he said. One time before when the school closed down, they put us up at the Hilton. Its not as bad this time.

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

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Originally published on February 3, 2000