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In memoriam: Mary Park, custodian who touched thousands of lives


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September 27, 2002

Mary Park

Mary Park (right), a longtime employee of SFSU where a residence hall bears her name, died Friday, Sept. 20, 2002, at Seton Medical Center in Daly City. She was 88.

In her honor, SFSU renamed Merced Hall, a facility that houses 410 freshmen and sophomores, Mary Park Hall in 1981, the year she retired. It is the only SFSU building -- and the first ever in the 23-campus California State University system -- named after a staff member, and the first named after a living person at the time.

Park worked at the University for 10 years as a food server and custodian and 20 years as supervising custodian for the residence halls. Known to students as "Mother Mary," she was appreciated for her kindness, generosity and hard work by the thousands of students who lived in the halls over the years and her colleagues.

Park lived alongside students in Verducci Hall during the final 10 years of her tenure. She worked seven days a week and would constantly give students advice and admonish them if they did something "dumb," said Donald Spuhler, who met Park in 1970 when he was a student living in the residence hall. She immediately offered Spuhler a job in maintenance because she thought he had "nothing better to do," he said.

"She would pat you on the back and scold you at the same time," said Spuhler, who is now project coordinator for SFSU Facilities and Service Enterprises. "She was a little brash in the way she did things, but she had a big heart."

Many students continued to keep in touch with Park long after they moved out of the residence halls and graduated. After she retired, Spuhler was among a group of friends who visited Park each week at her apartment near campus in Stonestown to have dinner and watch "Monday Night Football." In recent years, Spuhler and others also helped Park with household chores, bills and errands.

Arline Van Ness met Park in the early 1960s when she was a student and enjoyed spending time in the cafeteria, called the Redwood Room, where Park worked. Later, Van Ness worked with Park as associate director of housing.

"We all loved her so much, and she loved us all," said Van Ness, who is now retired. "She was just a very, very special lady. We were all her kids."

Park was born April 19, 1914, in Wailua, Hawaii. She moved to San Francisco in 1951 to join the University, when it was located at Haight and Buchanan streets. Park was named Outstanding Staff Member in 1978, and President Paul Romberg presented her with the President's Distinguished Service Award upon retirement.

Park is survived by her sisters Betty Lee of San Francisco, Martha Chun of Soquel, Alice Phillips of Kaneohe, Hawaii, and her brother Hio Whoon Park of Pearl City, Hawaii.

The family is planning a private memorial service and requests donations be made to the American Diabetes Association.

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Last modified September 27, 2002, by the Office of Public Affairs