Van Roekel serves wholeheartedly

Dayna Wichhart—Staff Writer

Since August, I have stopped by the community bathroom on the third floor of Covenant Hall every morning. This past Thursday, my routine  did not differ. I woke up to my usual 8:00 a.m. alarm and walked to the north bathroom. That morning, a neon flag hung in the doorway: 

Bathroom closed for maintenance.

I walked to the south side of the building to shower and grumbled as my flip flops squeaked to my steps.

On Saturday and Sunday mornings, I don’t deal with this inconvenience, since the cleaning ladies don’t work on weekends. But by Sunday night, a women’s community bathroom becomes dirtier than expected as hair hangs on shower walls, paper towels overflow the trash cans and litter the floor, and dried-up toothpaste gunks up the sinks and faucets. 

When Monday morning arriveed, I grabbed my towel and walked to the bathroom again:

Bathroom closed for maintenance. 


But this time, I didn’t grumble as I returned to the south side, but pitied the person tasked with cleaning the bathroom.

Judy Van Roekel grew up in Illinois before moving to Dordt College as a student. She met her husband on campus and took classes for a year. But, unable to pay tuition for another year, she married. Now, the Van Roekels live on a farm near the university. After her son’s death two years ago, she and her husband became the legal guardians of his oldest two children. 

Van Roekel started working part-time for Dordt 25 years ago. Back then, she cleaned the President’s house and other buildings across campus. When Covenant Hall was built, Van Roekel switched to a full-time job and began overseeing Covenant Hall and East Campus. 

Pulling up to Covenant Hall at 5:30 a.m., Van Roekel begins cleaning before the majority of campus wakes up. With her grey Dordt University Facilities and Maintenance T-shirt tucked neatly into a pair of blue jeans, she works. 

Her keys jingle as she makes her way through the hall, checking for anything needing special attention. 

Photo Credit: Dayna Wichhart

The cleaning of the bathrooms stands as the toughest task. As always, she starts by wedging the doorstop and hanging the neon flag as a few students trickle out of the bathroom, heading to  their morning classes. 

Van Roekel may not remember students names, but she knows their faces. She said she enjoys her interactions with all the freshmen and sophomores of Covenant Hall. 

The bathroom empty, Van Roekel grabs a straw broom, its bristles scratching against the floor tiles. She works swiftly; after 25 years, she’s learned the ins and outs of how to work smarter, not harder. 

Van Roekel scrubs each shower with a long brush, and scrubs sinks clean of toothpaste, dirt, and dust.

 After that, the moves onto the toilets. She cleans the outside and inside of the bowl, replaces the trash cans from inside each stall, and restocks each toilet roll. 

After finishing, Van Roekel loads her cleaning supplies onto her blue-green cart and rolls over to the next bathroom, repeating the process. 

In addition to cleaning Covenant Hall bathrooms, Van Roekel upkeeps common areas and oversees East Campus and ensures student workers fulfill their responsibilities.

“My goal is to keep Covenant the way it looked when it was first built,” Van Roekel said.

Van Roekel chose her career because she feels service workers are called to jobs similar to how professors, doctors, and engineers are called. She grew up with a cleanly mother. Every summer, the mother-daughter duo worked through each room of their house, deep-cleaning walls, floors, and blinds.

“We used to wash each individual blind,” Van Roekel said. “And if it wasn’t done well enough, mom would make us redo it. That’s just how it was.”

While the majority of university employees receive time off in the summer months, Van Roekel does a significant amount of work during this time. Every building and room on campus must be deep cleaned: the walls, the floor, the ceiling, and the lights. If you can see it, she cleans it. And if you can’t see it, she probably cleans that too.

Also during the summers, Van Roekel prepares and cleans up rooms for youth athletic camps and church events hosted by the university. 

When Van Roekel’s on-campus work ends around 3:00 p.m., her day doesn’t finish She picks up children from school, drives them to their after-school activities, fixes dinner, and farms crops on her property with her husband.

I initially pitied Van Roekel, but she does not pity herself and said she enjoys her job and takes pride in her work.

“Serve wholeheartedly as if you were serving the Lord not people,” Van Roekel says, referencing Ephesians 6:7.

I shut the water off and stepped out of the shower. When I had wrapped myself in my towel and walked back to my room, the closed bathroom sign had been taken down. I brushed my teeth. The sinks shined, an empty trash bag  had been tied to the bin, the floor was scrubbed clean, and the smell of bleach and Windex jarred me awake. 

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