Every workday, Dora Valle wakes at 3:30 a.m. and, at 5 a.m., starts her custodial shift in the Lown building. The commute is rough. The days are long. The appreciation for her labor is lacking. But Dora didn’t just deserve the Zirkel Award because she begins her work at an early hour—there are many men and women whose unrecognized, pre-dawn labor keeps Brandeis University running. Dora Valle merited it because her work ethic is unrivaled, her smile is unceasing and infectious and her generosity brightens the lives of those who know her. Just about everyone has a Dora story, but those who toil alongside her benefit most from the camaraderie she fosters.
Just ask Kin Tang and Marie Germain, who have worked with Dora for years, Kin at the Abraham Shapiro Academic Complex and Marie at Olin-Sang. My questions about Dora elicited from them a geyser of superlatives: the hardest worker (Dora never refuses to clean an additional building when Brandeis is short-staffed). The best cook (she often makes lunch for the others, including Chinese food for Kin). The happiest moments on the job (inevitably those spent with Dora).
“I already talked to my supervisor, we have to do something for her,” Marie says. “It makes my day when I work with Dora. I love working with her—I request to work with her. I don’t know where the spirit comes from; you don’t find people like Dora.”
Yet, it’s not just about the quality of the food Dora prepares or how hard she scrubs the floors that distinguish her. “When I went on vacation,” Kin adds, “Dora didn’t just clean my building. She cleaned my [custodial] closet.” Marie nods her head. “Her effort is 100 percent.” And when I asked Marie to name the best coworker she has ever had at Brandeis (where she has worked since 1994), the answer was immediate: “I choose Dora for myself and my heart and my soul.”
Maureen Russo, a barista at the Olin-Sang Café, offers similar praise. “Dora is the best, A-plus. She is thoughtful, considerate—when I’m not here Dora washes my counter and even my refrigerator. She cooks for me; she gives me lunch. On my birthday, she brought me a cake, a delicious fruit cake. She is always working, she never stops. She is thorough, no matter what she does.”
Dora is an excellent worker and a consummate friend, and the mingling of those qualities is apparent in her simple acts of kindness.
And Dora gives her all despite the adversity she faces—caring for her 84-year-old mother with Alzheimer’s and worrying for her brother back in El Salvador. Dora came to America in 1983 because she feared for her life. Death squads roamed the streets of her country amid a 12-year civil war. Now the situation is once again deteriorating.
Still, Dora is optimistic, this sentiment fueled, in part, by faith. In her words: “I like to keep everybody happy, even with problems in my house. God gives me my strength. I am Christian and go to church. God blesses me a lot. Every single day I say thank you, God—thank you, God for my job, for my everything. I’m really happy to work at Brandeis. I’m never leaving this place until I retire. The people are great. Other places there is a lot more pressure. Here, we do our job, no pressure. Brandeis is a blessing for me.”
What Dora leaves unstated is that it’s reciprocal. Dora is Brandeis’ blessing, too. Finally, her exceptional work and character have been recognized at the highest level.