By Katie Ormsby
If you've spent any time on the second floor of Padelford Hall, you may have noticed something just a little different.
"There is a certain sector of the building where everything shines more brightly and things seem decidedly more organized and in place," wrote Assistant Professor Kevin Donnelly, in a letter nominating custodian Ui-Hak Chong for a Distinguished Staff Award. Chong is responsible for the second floor of Padelford's B wing, the section to which Donnelly is referring.
Now in his 10th year at UW, Chong takes great pride in his work.
"My job is to serve others," said Chong. "I try my best to do my job and make the customers happy."
He is a quiet, but friendly man of few words. While growing up in South Korea, his parents instilled in him the importance of a strong work ethic.
"My parents told me to always be honest," he explained. "They also always told me to work hard and serve others. I'm just following what my parents taught."
His work ethic and devotion to his job do not go unnoticed by the residents of the second floor. Phillip Markley, a Spanish Department coordinator, even calls it the "Mr. Ui-Hak Chong treatment."
Lecturer Donally Kennedy wrote, "In my 21 years here in various offices, I can attest that the second floor of Padelford has never been cleaner than it has the last three years since Mr. Chong became our custodian. I remember the first weeks after he arrived, even people who rarely interacted with one another would stop in the halls and trade remarks about the startling transformation achieved by Mr. Chong and what a difference it was making for our morale."
In a similar vein, Markley wrote, "As I walk down the hall, I hear all of the residents of the second floor, from Italian to Linguistics, saying the same things. It is amazing how much better he has made all of us feel by his dedication to the job."
Chong's attention to detail is often mentioned.
"I remember one occasion in the summer of 2007," wrote Kennedy, "when he approached me to ask if there were any days that I would not be around or need use of my office. He explained that he was systematically stripping and waxing everyone's floors, and he did not want to disturb my work pattern.
"I was thankful," Kennedy continued, "but informed him that it was not necessary—I'd be fine without polished floors. Yet he insisted, so I told him that I would not be in over the next two days. Upon my return, I was overwhelmed by the thoroughness of the work. I had never thought that having a well-tended office would make such a difference, yet I was wrong."
Estefania Yanci, a Spanish lecturer, wrote, "He is a genuinely meticulous and thorough worker, and it is a joy to enter the halls of the second floor of Padelford to its spotless and shiny floors." Yanci even wrote that Chong's attention to detail helps her to have a more positive attitude when she gets to work at 6:30 a.m.
"I feel like a true professional," she explained, "when I know that the students arriving for office hours will be entering a well-maintained and attractive environment, and not someplace that looks the worse for wear."
In addition to his parents, Chong credits his church and religion for influencing his remarkable work ethic.
"I try to follow the Bible," he said.
When not working meticulously, Chong is usually found at his church — Community Church of Seattle in Bothell. He is considered a leader in the church and says that he enjoys setting up the social hour on Sundays.
"People gather and we serve food like Korean rice cakes. I like the preparing and serving," he said.
Chong's three children are also important to him. He passed his strong work ethic down to them. His son owns Seattle Fudge in Seattle Center and his youngest daughter manages the store. Chong's oldest daughter works for an accounting company downtown.
With his children grown and living on their own, Chong said that his "house is too big now." He and his wife are planning on buying a small house soon, and he said that the award will help make that possible.
When asked about the award, he said that he is simply "very happy and thankful to the University."