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NMSU custodial worker retires after eventful 45-year career

As a custodial worker at New Mexico State University, Alfredo Cadena has met university presidents, athletes, accomplished faculty and a U.S. president. But looking back on his 45-year career at NMSU, Cadena said his favorite aspect of his job was getting to know the campus buildings and leaving them as spotless as possible.


Man wearing safety goggles standing outside
Alfredo Cadena, lead custodial worker for New Mexico State University’s Facilities and Services, retired Feb. 1 after 45 years of service to the university. (NMSU photo by Josh Bachman)
Three men standing in front of a wooden door
As a custodial worker at New Mexico State University for 45 years, Alfredo Cadena (center) has met and become friends with several university administrators, including NMSU Chancellor Dan Arvizu (right) and Arvizu's chief of staff Lenny Martinez. (NMSU photo)

“I loved my job. The cleaning, working in all the buildings, I even cleaned the old stadium and was the first one to clean the new one,” Cadena said in Spanish, referring to Aggie Memorial Stadium, which opened in 1978.

Cadena, 63, a humble but talkative man, retired from NMSU Feb. 1 because “everyone told me I was working for free,” he said jokingly.

Cadena said he learned of the custodial job at NMSU through his cousin. Her husband showed up at Cadena’s house between 1 and 1:30 a.m. Nov. 13, 1975, to pick him up to go to work. His first assignment was to assist his co-worker, Henry Martinez, in cleaning carpets and rugs.

Through his work, Cadena got to know several university presidents, including Gerald Thomas, whom Cadena met while cleaning windows at the president’s residence, and James Halligan, who presented Cadena with the custodian of the year plaque in 1985. Cadena also has a fan in NMSU Chancellor Dan Arvizu.

“From the moment I met Alfredo, the pride he felt for his work and for his colleagues was obvious,” Arvizu said. “He treats his work with such respect, it is clear he is a professional. And for him to practice and perfect his trade with us for 45 years is truly exceptional. All of us stand in honor of his service to NMSU. Gracias, Alfredo.”

In 1996, Cadena and a group of about 15 custodial workers helped out during President Bill Clinton’s visit to campus. Cadena said the group’s job was to help with security, since they were familiar with each building on campus.

“I got to shake his hand,” Cadena said.

In 2015, Cadena was part of a group of custodial workers assigned to improve cleaning efforts in NMSU’s golf, softball, baseball and football facilities.

“I loved that job because we worked from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m., including weekends, but we got three days off,” Cadena said.

Last year, Cadena experienced a shift in his duties. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Cadena and his coworkers became responsible for disinfecting and sanitizing every corner of each campus building in order to help curb the spread.

“I loved making sure the buildings were disinfected to make sure no student, employee or visitor got sick,” Cadena said.

Art Lucero, custodial, solid waste and recycling manager for Facilities and Services, said Cadena was an exceptional employee who made things happen.

“He’s a total team player, go-getter, self-motivated, open to new ideas, always positive and takes pride in his work,” Lucero said. “He’s not willing to compromise substandard work or work habits, and has a high standard for himself and his peers. Without his commitment, dedication, dependability and positive attitude, our custodial program would not be where it is today.”

As for Cadena’s plans after retirement, Cadena said he wants to continue writing his “rimas,” or rhymes, and would like to find someone to help him publish a book. He also plans on finding a part-time job once the pandemic is over.