When the subject of perfect jobs comes up, Frank Whetstone leaves the room. Five days a week he battles the mess and dirt left behind by an average of 170 men, and 15 staff, that visit St. John Center every day.
As plant manager of the Center, there is nothing the man has not seen and cleaned up. In the interest of good taste the details have been omitted. And when one considers the fact that Frank has been waging this war for 15 years, is 70 years old, and suffered a stroke three years ago, the story becomes nothing short of amazing.
Why does this man, married 49 years to his lovely wife Betty, father of four, grandfather of four, and great grandfather of two, continue to work at a job most people would gladly avoid?
“There is less chaos at St. John Center than anyplace I’ve ever worked. I like the work and I really like the staff. I want to work as long as I am able to work. I enjoy getting up and having something to do. It makes life more enjoyable,” Frank explained. “I am not the type to sit on the front porch and read all day. There is also a financial advantage. Besides, my brother is 75 and he still works every day.”
The best testament about the cleanliness of St. John Center comes from the clients themselves. Since 2010 Spalding University students have conducted an annual survey of SJC guests. One of the questions asked is “Do you find St. John Center to be clean?” In the most recent survey 99 percent of the men responded “Always” or “Usually.” The previous year 95 percent responded that way.
A native of tiny Alexander City, AL, Frank likes working for a place that helps those who are struggling. “There are a lot of different programs here that point people in the right direction. The work that is done at St. John Center is very important. If you don’t think so, just let the place close. These (homeless) guys would be knocking down the door to get in.”
Maria Price, executive director of St. John Center, knows Frank’s contribution to the facility is much more than keeping the place presentable. “Is it his common sense or his sense of humor? His integrity or patience? His work ethic or inner strength? It is hard to choose the characteristic that most distinguishes Frank,” she said. “That is precisely the point – Frank is a rare gift, an absolute gem. He gives of himself so quietly and humbly every day, and his service to the men, the volunteers, staff and the agency cannot be overstated.”
Most of Frank’s maintenance know-how came from on-the-job experience at an apartment building for the elderly where he worked for 38 years. “All my training came from other people and our vendors. We would have some company come to fix something or install something and they would never need to come back,” said Frank. “I would watch what they did and how they did it, and figure out how to do it myself.”
Frank has always been a hard worker. He learned plumbing from his father and after high school actually worked with his Dad for a while.
Drafted by the Army, Frank served from 1965-67, but fortunately was sent to Korea, and then Ft. Knox, instead of Vietnam. Following his military service, Frank attended college for two years.
Frank will retire someday, but at St. John Center, we hope it isn’t soon.