On Jan. 23, Director of Housekeeping Services Herb Richmond welcomed University staff and community members to the Kennon Cheek and Rebecca Clark Building to celebrate the building’s recent renovation and the opening of an exhibit dedicated to housekeepers Kennon Cheek and Rebecca Clark and groundskeeper William “Bus” Hubbard. Special guests at the celebration were representatives from each of the families, spanning four generations of Cheek, Clark and Hubbard families.
The Cheek Clark Building has been integral to the University’s operations since it opened in 1925. Originally the University Laundry, the building was renamed in 1998 to honor the contributions of Kennon Cheek and Rebecca Clark, two housekeepers who provided leadership to, and promoted better working conditions for, their fellow housekeepers during the 1930s and 1940s. The Cheek Clark Building is the second University building to be named in honor of African American employees and is the first to be named after African American staff.
The Cheek Clark Building now serves as the headquarters for the more than 400 Housekeeping Services staff, who clean and maintain campus, and for Building Services Campus Maintenance and Housing Support staff.
Staff were temporarily relocated in March 2015 when maintenance and engineering staff discovered that the building’s roof truss system had severely deteriorated and was at risk for collapse. An extensive interior renovation and roof replacement was completed in October 2018. The renovation allowed for the exposure of the building’s wood trusses, introduced natural lighting throughout the building, and provided improved office, training and computer spaces for Facilities Operations staff.
The building renovation also provided the opportunity to incorporate an exhibit that honors the dedication and service of Kennon Cheek and Rebecca Clark to their fellow staff and to the University. The exhibit also honors the almost 60 years of service of groundskeeper and campus tree surgeon Bus Hubbard. The exhibit is located in the lobby of the Cheek Clark Building and features Cheek, Clark and Hubbard as well as a historical timeline of the University’s housekeeping and facilities operations.
Speaking at the celebration, Associate Vice Chancellor for Facilities Services Anna Wu said, “Of all the projects that I have worked on over the years, this one gives me a tremendous amount of pride because this is for Facilities. Thank you to the Clark, the Cheek and the Hubbard families — you have been legendary. And now you can come to this building at any time and you can see your family and see your history, which is a very special thing.”
The Cheek Clark Building is located at 601 W. Cameron Ave. and is open to visitors Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. with the exception of University holidays.
Kennon Cheek was a janitor in Venable Hall when he co-founded the Janitor’s Association at the University in 1930. The organization sought to improve wages and working conditions for campus janitors. Some of the victories they won included a week of paid vacation and showers in the bathrooms. Cheek was also a leader in Chapel Hill’s Northside community and helped to buy the land for the St. Joseph Christian Methodist Episcopal Church on Rosemary Street.
Rebecca Clark began working as a maid at the Carolina Inn in 1937 and later worked in the University Laundry. Her concerns about campus working conditions led to her involvement with the State, County and Municipal Workers of America. Clark was able to win wage increases, safer workspaces and improved work schedules for University Laundry workers. She also worked as a civil rights advocate in the community and was instrumental in the election of Howard Lee, the first African American mayor of Chapel Hill.
Bus Hubbard worked at the University from 1953 to 2012. For most of that time he was the campus tree surgeon and was known for his knowledge and skill at pruning and caring for large trees. Hubbard won a C. Knox Massey Distinguished Service Award in 1986, and at a 2003 celebration of his 50 years of service, the University announced that a proposed grounds building would be named in his honor. His legacy can be seen in the beautiful trees of McCorkle and Polk places.