Person of the Week
John O’Connell: In the Center of It All
Clinton native John O’Connell has devoted the last three decades to keeping Andrews Memorial Town Hall in top shape. (Photo courtesy of John O’Connell)
Go to any meeting, event, or referendum at Andrews Memorial Town Hall in Clinton and you may notice one person hanging out in the background every time. For 32 years, John O’Connell has been a fixture in Town Hall keeping the building spotless and events rolling.
John is the Town Hall custodian, but cleaning up is only a fragment of his job. In addition to cleaning, he maintains the building by fixing things, which doesn’t always follow a schedule.
“The building is 100 years old. At any time something can happen, like a pipe bursting,” John says.
He also interacts with the public, serving as a kind of tour guide, pointing all passersby in the right direction or reminding them whether a meeting has been moved to a new time.
“I always try to be courteous, friendly, and helpful. Over the years I’ve got to work with people from so many different backgrounds and with so many events or organizations,” says John.
John got his start in Town Hall 32 years ago after a prior custodian left and a job opened up. By chance, John lived across the street from longtime custodian Tom Fitting, who had also worked at Town Hall for more than 30 years.
“I remember at the interview they said, ‘You’re very young—how do we know if you’re going to stay long term or not?’ and I said, ‘If I get this job, I’m staying until they drag me out,’” John recalls with a laugh.
When John was first hired, he worked a traditional day shift. After five years, he switched to a night shift and has never looked back.
“I love it now. I’m used to it. I’m a not a morning person at all,” says John.
While his hours may be set at a routine time, work at Town Hall can be anything but routine.
“Every day is different. Some are easy and great and some can be crazy,” John says.
Crazy days include times like a fire alarm going off in the middle of a 500-person opera performance, setting up 100 chairs on short notice in the Green Room because of an emergency meeting, or driving down to Town Hall at 2 a.m. because the alarm is going off.
“I pitch in with whatever they need me to do,” he says.
Through the years, John can recall several times that due to emergency situations he’s had to pitch in to help the community.
“I can remember one time due to an emergency making sandwiches with Willie Fritz in the Rose Room because people had lost power and came to Town Hall for shelter,” John says.
That’s not the only time John has jumped into the fray when needed. John proudly notes he’s worked in every office except the Tax Office when needed due to short staff or pressing needs.
“I have a handle on each office in this building. I know how everything is supposed to run,” John says.
In the more than three decades he’s been a town employee, John has seen big changes come town.
“One thing I like is that you know a lot of people around town and see how things work behind the scenes. There’s a lot it takes to keep a place like this moving,” John says.
Of all the changes he likes the most, he says the upgrades done several years ago to the historic Town Hall building are his favorite.
Through all the craziness, John says it’s the close-knit environment shared by Town Hall employees that he enjoys.
“What’s great for me is the people. I think this really is the best job in the world,” says John.
Recently, due to an injury, John had to miss significant time from work, but says he was moved by his co-workers helpful gestures when he returned to work.
“We’re like a big family here. When the chips are down, people here do care. You don’t get that at a big company,” John says.
John was born and raised in Clinton, and has fond memories of his hometown.
“It’s my home and I’ve always been happy here,” John says, noting that he finds that the sense of community he experiences in Town Hall also extends out to the town as whole.
“I really like the sense of community. Anytime something bad happens, the town always rallies around everybody. It’s a great place to live and the people are great,” says John.