People who know Angelette Cheek know they are not going to hear any complaints from her about the long day she is having.
Long days are embedded in a set routine that begins with the alarm clock blasting in her ear at 4:15 a.m.
“It’s early, but I’ve been doing it for a long time,” Cheek said. “It don’t bother me. Once I’m up, I’m fine.”
She needs the extra time to fight morning traffic for her 20-mile commute from her home in Pittsboro to get to Chapel Hill by 6 a.m. to start her eight-hour shift as the housekeeping day porter at the Kenan Center in the Kenan-Flager Business School.
“I leave here at 3 and go straight to Northwood High School” in Pittsboro, Cheek said. She works there as a custodian 4 – 8 p.m.
She had been putting in long days for a long time, a record of duty that makes her both grateful – and proud.
“I’ll be here at Carolina for 22 years in March,” she said, and she has worked at Northwood for 19.
Those long, steady hours made it possible for her to stand on her own feet, raise her daughter on her own and buy her own house.
She felt that same combination of gratitude and pride when she learned this spring that she had won a 2016 C. Knox Massey Distinguished Service Award, she said.
Cheek’s Massey citation is filled with endorsements by people who have gotten to know her over the years, and it is her can-do steadfastness that shines through.
Her citation reads: “Keep achieving. Keep moving forward. Strive to reach your goals. These could be Angelette Cheek’s mottos because they are what she’s done.”
Business professor Deborah Stroman, who invited Cheek to serve on the Carolina Black Caucus steering committee in 2010, described Cheek as a “hard- and smart-working employee who serves with a smile.”
Kenan Center administration assistant Amina Thorne-Morning said Cheek takes pride in her work and always supports her co-workers to the fullest. “If they need help, or just someone to talk to, she is there,” Thorne-Morning said.
Kenan Institute’s grants manager Linda Parson said Cheek had big shoes to fill when she replaced a beloved housekeeper who retired after working at Kenan Center for many years.
She handled that challenge with ease, Parson added.
“She is the first one in the building in the morning, making sure that all the entrances are open and the stairwells are unlocked,” Parson said.
When Parson commended Cheek for braving the dark parking lot every morning, Cheek responded with an oft-repeated refrain, “It don’t bother me. I’ve been doing it for years.”
A worker since childhood
She works at the same high school she dropped out of 40 years ago at the start of her junior year. It is a decision she regrets now, but circumstances pulled her in that direction.
When you are the oldest of eight children, work comes and finds you even when you are a child.
By the time she was 11 or 12, she was called upon to watch after her other siblings when her parents were at work at the chicken plant in town. (Her mother worked in the packaging plant; her father drove a truck).
“Keep achieving. Keep moving forward. Strive to reach your goals. These could be Angelette Cheek’s mottos because they are what she’s done.”
Cheek ended up working at the plant not long after she left school and was working there when her daughter, Nicole, was born in 1979 – the year she turned 20.
Eventually, she found work more to her liking at the Pittsboro Drive-in, which at the time was both a convenience store and restaurant of old-fashioned Southern cooking.
“An older man was the cook and I learned a lot from him,” Cheek said.
Cheek took over as cook when he retired and might still be in that same kitchen dishing out hamburger steak and creamed potatoes to her customers if the owner hadn’t sold the place in the early 1990s.
But things worked out better than she could have hoped after she landed a housekeeping job at Carolina in spring of 1995.
‘I love it here’
She worked 10 years at Carmichael residence hall, she said, followed by appointments in New West and New East, Davie Hall, the Ackland Art Museum and the Hanes Art Center.
At the age of 57, with enough years of service completed, she can picture retirement looming on the horizon, but for now she is content where she is, doing exactly what she is doing.
Cheek said she first imagined how nice it would be working at the Kenan Center ever since the housekeeping department held a Christmas party there years ago, she said.
“This is going to be it for me,” Cheek said of what she knows will be her last assignment at Carolina. “I love it here, and the people are so nice.”
She still takes extra pride in her daughter, who turns 37 next month, and her grandson, DeShaun, a 15-year-old sophomore who plays on the junior varsity football team at Northwood, where Cheek has worked since before DeShaun was born.
When her work shift there ends on Thursday nights, Cheek doesn’t head for home. She heads to the stadium to take a seat in the stands.
No matter who wins the game, she said, seeing her grandson take the field is always a perfect ending for her day.
Job: housekeeping day porter at the Kenan Center
UNC employee since: 1995
Interesting fact: When she retires from Carolina, she contemplates going to work somewhere as a cook because cooking will always be her first love. Even now, she said, she doesn’t like to go out to eat in restaurants because she likes her own cooking better. There is only one exception: pizza.
Family: daughter, Nicole, and grandson, DeShaun
Excerpt from nominations: Housekeeping training manager Herb Richmond said Cheek has a reputation for her “courteous disposition and eye for detail,” but “to me her overwhelming attributes are dedication and compassion.”
“There are many who work hard and there are just as many who display a good attitude about work, but there are very few who overcome stressful days with a smile and with words of encouragement to others.”
By Gary Moss, University Gazette
Originally published by University Gazette: September 27, 2016