There is a large warehouse-like room on the ground floor of the Service Building that few people at the college ever see. The room is filled with work tables and shelves stacked high with cans of various colored paint; handpainted wood signs that once adorned the campus are scattered along the walls.
In the far corner of the room sits an ornate wood desk. The desk is a roll top; it couldn’t close if you set a computer on it. But that doesn’t bother Steve Krisha. He says he doesn’t have a need for a computer: He’s too busy painting. Besides, a computer would cover the collection of family photos and children’s drawings decorating the space.
Steve Krisha has worked as a painter for Oberlin College since 1968. He will retire July 14, 2015, after 47 years of service.
“I Painted My Bedroom Once.”
Steve came to work for Oberlin College after graduating from high school in New London, Ohio, a small village roughly 30 minutes southwest of Oberlin. His father—who, Steve estimates, served Oberlin from 1964 to 1980—worked in construction and had secured him odd jobs at the college while he was still in school.
Many of Steve’s high school friends found his decision to work for the college curious. “A lot of my friends got out of school and went [to work at] Lorain Ford. They asked, ‘What are you going there for? Look at all the money you can make up here,’” he says. “I just don’t think I would’ve gotten along inside a factory, doing the same thing every day.”
What was more curious about Steve working for Oberlin, specifically in the paint shop, is that he had never really painted before. “When I first did a paint job, the painter who taught me to paint, he said, ‘Do you want to cut or do you want to roll?’ And I go, ‘What do you mean?’” (Cutting or cutting in is a technique for painting trim. The technique takes a steady hand, but it saves significant time, as it eliminates the need for masking tape.) “He asks, ‘You ever paint anything before?’ And I go, ‘I painted my bedroom once,’” Steve laughs.
That painter’s name was Horace Martin. Steve says he worked with him for 15 or 20 years. He credits Horace for helping him become the hardworking and “picky” painter he is today. “I think about [Horace] a lot; the way he used to get on me all the time if I didn’t do something a certain way. Oh he’d tear me up,” he says. “He stayed on me. I learned. Now I’m picky, and if I work with someone else and I don’t like what they’re doing, it bothers me. That’s probably where I got it from.”
About a year after starting at Oberlin, Steve was drafted into the army. He served for two years, spending 11 months in Vietnam. When he returned, his job was waiting for him. “I came back and started working again. It was like I didn’t lose any time at all,” he says.
Buildings, Signs, and Hockey Rink Lines
On an average day, Steve can be found painting the inside or exterior of one of the many campus buildings or the surrounding college-owned properties. “Since I’ve been here, I’ve done pretty much everything: Wilder, Talcott, Baldwin,” he lists. “I was at Philips gym painting all the hallways for more than a year.”
He may also be found working in the paint shop, either cutting and glazing window glass or hand painting custom signs like those found on campus during Commencement/Reunion Weekend. “The signs on the buildings that have the different class or reunion years, you have to change all the dates every year. So I get these double sided signs, and I repaint them every year and then put them up all over campus. Any signs that were for the restroom, welcome signs, registration signs, direction signs, parking signs, I painted all of those,” he says.
Steve even used to paint the hockey lines on the Williams Ice Rink, which has been converted into a multi-purpose facility. “Whatever there is to paint, you just tell me to paint it and I go do it. That’s it,” he says.
It’s a rather blithe attitude, especially considering painting is not the safest profession historically. “One of the older painters who taught me how to paint, he got lead poisoning because the paints used to come in powder, and he had to mix those and put the lead in. That didn’t happen when I was here,” he says.
Steve also encountered his fair share of potentially dangerous situations prior to the introduction of organizations like the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA); for example, painting building exteriors without standing on scaffolding. “We had to figure out ways to climb up on roofs to paint. We used to climb out of windows, stand on the window sills, hang on and reach up,” he says.
“Everybody Has to Retire Sooner or Later”
Steve’s retirement date—July 14, 2015—is his 65th birthday. As it approaches, he is keeping busy with work orders and thoughts of what he’ll do with his newly found free time. “I thought about just clearing my head out for a few days, but then I have a million things that I’ve been putting off at home. You know, I tell my wife, ‘I don’t have the time,’ but now I’m going to have to do them.”
He says he also plans to spend more quality time with his family—his wife, two children, grandchildren, and two great-grandsons. He and his wife, Gail, also have a dog and three cats.
Like many who have retired before him, Steve plans to return to campus every so often to visit. “Everybody gets along pretty well in the shops. When I go out [on campus], I know a lot of people. I’m going to miss the place and miss a lot of the people, but that’s the way it goes,” he says. “Everybody has to retire sooner or later, so I’m going to do it.”
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