Mark LaPine still remembers the first time a student introduced herself to him. It was during his first month on the job – March of 2014 – as a night custodian for the College. The student, then a junior, simply thanked LaPine for cleaning and maintaining facilities at the Bernhard Music Center, but the brief exchange took LaPine by surprise. At Steinerfilm Inc., the electronic supply company where LaPine worked for 27 years before being laid off, he rarely interacted with other workers.
Though he is now surrounded by many people in his day-to-day work responsibilities, he did not initially know what to expect of the dynamic between College staff and students. As a North Adams native now living in Clarksburg, LaPine had previously worked in the electronics industry that dominated the Berkshires, so starting up custodial work was unfamiliar to him.
“Coming from [Steinerfilm], it was really interesting for me to be working with all of these people instead of running a machine,” he said. For a student to reach out to him, then, was refreshing and fulfilling. “I thought, ‘Wow, that was pretty cool.’ I wasn’t sure if students even cared what their custodians’ names [were].”
But contrary to his initial expectations for the job, LaPine has found that working at the College has become a core part of his life because of the care he puts into interacting with members of the campus community.
Indeed, working the 6 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. shift five nights a week at Bernhard, Paresky and Chapin Hall has allowed LaPine to form meaningful relationships with members of the College.
“It’s my favorite part of the job, for sure, to just meet the talented, interesting students, faculty and staff,” LaPine, who has become friends with over 50 students throughout his time here, said. “You don’t get that in the [electronics] industry. You just run a machine. But here, every night, every year, really, you get to meet a whole new group of people.”
Students who know LaPine, particularly those involved in the music department who cross paths with him while he is on his shift, value LaPine’s kindness, care and friendliness.
“It’s so nice to have him [working at Bernhard],” Kurt Pfrommer ’18 said. Pfrommer is a music major who has been friends with LaPine for the past three years. “It’s really clear that he cares about us and that he’s always interested in how we are doing and what we are up to,” Pfrommer added. “He truly is a part of the music community.”
For LaPine’s wife of 34 years, Deb, that students think highly of him is not surprising.
“People in my life love and appreciate him,” she said. “He has a great ability to ease the most stressful situations with his sense of humor.” As the operations manager in the Alumni Relations Office, Deb LaPine said that both of them have had great experiences with the College. “I do enjoy having him on campus and hearing his stories of positive interactions with the student body,” Deb, who has spent the last 32 years working at the College, said. “I am happy to see Mark have similar experiences engaging with many of the students in the music department. The relationships he builds with the students make his work worthwhile.”
LaPine does not limit his work at the College to just his custodial responsibilities. From following up on developments in students’ lives to sometimes treating them with a LaPine favorite, Devil Dogs – a crème-filled chocolate food cake – he is a supporting and caring figure within the music department. When he is not working or listening to hard rock, heavy metal or alternative rock (Parliament and Funkadelic are two of his favorite bands), LaPine will even go to student musicians’ concerts and recitals. To him, it’s a treat to not only listen to great classical music, but to also know the performers.
“The students are so dedicated, especially the musicians,” he said. “I’ve always appreciated all types of music, and it’s cool to know the musicians who are making the music. I know all of the hard work they put into [music],” LaPine, who often hears students rehearsing at night, said.
On the other end, students are equally devoted to caring for LaPine. Once, Pfrommer said, a group of music students lured him away from his snow shoveling duties, claiming a student was in need, so that they could surprise him with a song on his birthday. On regular occasions, one might find a student chatting with LaPine about hiking or hunting turkeys – one of his favorite pastimes – or gushing about how intelligent, sweet and loving his daughter Michelle and granddaughter Ava are. Though they live in Ringgold, Ga., LaPine will make the trek down south to see them next week to celebrate Ava’s fourth birthday.
Both LaPines said that it can be difficult to balance work with family, since Deb and Mark have different work schedules and Ava and Michelle live so far away. “We have worked opposite shifts for most of our almost 34 years of marriage,” Deb said. She maintained, however, that the time they do share together becomes that much more meaningful. “We try to hike or enjoy the outdoors together almost every weekend, and that gives us time to reconnect and chat about our weeks. Quality time over quantity time, you would say. We make it work and enjoy the time we do have together all the more.”
With this in mind, LaPine’s dedication to this campus becomes all the more significant to the people around him. Staff and students alike appreciate LaPine for the work he does and the inspiration he is to those who have had the fortune to experience even a sliver of his characteristic kindness. As someone who radiates compassion, it’s no surprise that LaPine is a widely beloved figure in this community.