Dance Marathon: UI custodian plays key role in Big Event

BY JENNY EARL | JANUARY 30, 2012 7:20 AM

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This year will be Mikey Welte's 19th Dance Marathon event.

But he's never been a "dancer."

The 63-year-old IMU custodian will be behind the scenes, making sure the building is well-stocked for the "Big Event," a 24-hour fundraiser to help fight pediatric cancer.

As Welte vacuums, three green bracelets dangle from his wrist. The bracelets used to sport the Dance Marathon logo, which has worn off over time.

"I wear them every day; they never come off," he said. "These haven't come off for years."

Welte knows what the fight is like; his sister was diagnosed with breast cancer several years ago.

Welte's first day on the job as a University of Iowa custodian was three days before the UI's first Dance Marathon Big Event.

Welte said the students create a contagious energy during the event.

"I figure if you can't beat them, you may as well join them," he said. "It's so hard not to, [with] the infectious spirit that they generate. You get taken up in it real quick."

Courtney Bond, the coordinator for Dance Marathon, said she has known Welte since she was a student on the Dance Marathon executive council in 2007. She said she still remembers her chats with him.

"Mikey has always been a supporter of Dance Marathon and supportive of all the students," she said.

Welte said though the 24-hour event can be a cleaning challenge, working around the participants and a great staff keep him going.

"Usually toward the end, these kids are hurting, they've been out there dancing and giving their all for 24 hours — but I'll tell you what … they're tough as leather," Welte said.

The custodians are just as involved in the event as the dancers. Though Welte only oversees a specific area of the IMU during normal workdays, the Big Event finds custodians on call for anything Dance Marathon supports and staff need.

"When you work Dance Marathon, you concentrate on doing the things that need to be taken care of for Dance Marathon," Welte said. "Whereas working tonight, I have an area, I have specific duties. But Dance Marathon — no, you're a groupie."

Custodians will experience a different schedule this year.

Typically, four custodians are sectioned off to different locations throughout the IMU during the event. Now, three workers will always be cleaning up, with several shifts throughout the night, and many of the workers will return to finish up cleaning Saturday at 5:30 p.m.

"Logistically, it's a tough job to set up for an event this size…" she said. "Many [custodians] put in long hours, and many even stay on their own time to make sure the event goes smoothly."

Mackenzi Hocking, the Dance Marathon operations director, said she has worked with Facilities Management on coordinating cleanliness and recycling since December.

"The janitors are awesome — they work overtime or volunteer to help clean," she said. "Some janitors are coming to help who don't even work at the IMU."

Hocking said the Dance Marathon leadership team stays an hour after the event to begin cleaning, with a few hundred people returning Sunday morning to finish the job.

Welte, who is the only custodian to have seen Dance Marathon since the first event, said he's seen it grow over the years.

"I can tell you what Dance Marathon was like if you've never been to one," Welte said. "But you'd never fully experience Dance Marathon until you're actually here."

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