Hard work pays off for Aspen janitors | AspenTimes.com

Hard work pays off for Aspen janitors

Katie Redding
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Jordan Curet The Aspen Times
ALL | The Aspen Times

ASPEN ” Every morning of the week, Ruben Villalobos and Amanda Zuniga work three to five hours at the Green Drake Motel in Basalt. Five days a week, they also go the Aspen Middle School at 2 p.m. and clean up after 580 people until 10 p.m.

And, still, they have an unfailing upbeat outlook, Aspen Middle School teachers and administrators said.

“Instead of being in front of the microphone … they’re behind the scenes, showing good effort with a positive attitude,” Assistant Principal Steve Nelson said.

When there are events at the middle school, they sometimes stay late to help clean up, noted teacher Kamala Marsh. If there are strange cars in the parking lot at night, they make sure they know who parked them.

And recently, the two were recognized for their behind-the-scenes efforts.

Villalobos and Zuniga were jointly awarded one of Dick Butera’s Distinguished Teacher Awards. Butera has given out the $10,000 awards for the past nine years. The program has grown from a few awards in its first year to this year’s 15.

Villalobos and Zuniga say the award came as a complete surprise to them. They were upstairs cleaning one day when Principal Tom Heald asked them to attend a meeting in the gym. It wasn’t until they heard their names announced that they learned they had won the award.

Villalobos grins as he remembers the day. He remembers that as soon as the custodians’ names were announced, the children cheered as if they were winning an award.

“Still, I am dreaming,” said Villalobos of winning the award. He and Zuniga spoke through interpreter ” and Aspen Middle School teacher ” Shawn Rios.

The two have worked at the school for 11 years. Before that, both lived in Mexico.

“I was very poor,” said Villalobos of his time in Mexico. “It was a lot of work to get a little money to live.”

Life in the Roaring Fork Valley is still hard, he said. Having two jobs is the only way they can live, because everything is expensive, from gas to food to rent.

And Zuniga pointed out that they’re both also trying to help out their families at home in Mexico.

Still, they say, they live a better life here. And they still enjoy working at the Aspen Middle School, after 11 years.

“I’ve never been at a job so long and been so happy,” Villalobos said.

At the high school, several anonymous teachers who had won Butera’s Distinguished Teacher Award decided to pass on the giving.

They consulted with high school counselor Kathy Klug to find students they could support with specific educational needs.

“All of them gave it in the spirit of ‘this can make a difference in the same way the gift made a difference to me when I received it,'” said Klug.

“It only goes to prove what heroes they really are and why they deserve these awards,” said Butera.

The surprise scholarships were awarded to Jack Montana Faust and Joe Garcia.

Also winning Distinguished Teacher Awards were the following: Aspen Elementary School third-grade teacher Deb Stein; Aspen Elementary School second-grade teacher Susan McKeller, Aspen Elementary School first-grade teacher Mary Owens, Aspen Middle School sixth-grade teacher Peter Westcott, Aspen Middle School fifth-grade teacher Matt Fields, Aspen Middle School seventh-grade teacher Dana Berro, Aspen Middle School speech teacher Lynette Conner, Aspen Middle School eighth-grade teacher Amy Hall, Aspen High School language arts teacher Cerena Thomsen, Aspen High School math teacher Ian Wagner, Aspen High School Spanish teacher Barb Connell, Aspen High School physical education teacher Calan Gibney, Aspen High School social studies teacher Kirk Gregory and Aspen Community School music teacher Randi Kelly.