From Guatemalan immigrant to Trinidad State Employee of the Year
Valley Campus / January 5, 2021 / Written by Margaret Sanderson
Francisco Lucas, affectionately known by the Guatemalan community as “Titi,” has been named Classified Employee of the Year for the second time at Trinidad State. He first received this honor in 2005, only one year after he was hired as a maintenance assistant at the Valley Campus in Alamosa. “I’m a hard worker,” he said, “and I am happy here.”
His work at the college was preceded by an arduous journey which began in 1985 when he left his wife and eight-month-old son in Guatemala and came to the United States in hopes of a better life. He crossed Mexico by bus and then walked for four days deep into Arizona with eight other men. After placing a phone call from a gas station, he slept several nights in a nearby orange orchard until a relative, who lived in Alamosa, could come and get him.
He began work as a dishwasher at Oscar’s Restaurant and then he learned to cook. Five years later he brought his family to America. The couple would add two daughters to their family as they both worked at the mushroom farm near Alamosa for the next 14 years. After a short time in Denver, Lucas volunteered for three months full-time in the maintenance department at Trinidad State with Larry Hunter. Several months later, he was notified of a maintenance job opening at the college. Ultimately, he was offered the position.
Although the pandemic requires a number of new cleaning rituals, the Alamosa Campus is not getting heavy use, making daily cleaning duties a bit lighter. He misses the students, but Trinidad State plans to have students back on campus on January 19.
Lucas, who speaks five languages (three Mayan dialects, Spanish and English), is heavily invested in the Guatemalan Community, which formed a Mayan Organization in 1993. Although he no longer serves as an officer, many Guatemalans still look to him for leadership and direction. Lucas serves on the Immigrant Resource Center board as well as the Rio Grande Farm Park board where he organizes the work schedules for the Guatemalan families who garden there. Lucas also works with the Guatemalan Consulate in Denver and takes the information shared with him to the Guatemalan community.
“I’m happy here,” Lucas said again. “I think my co-workers and my boss are happy with me too. I’m going to miss my boss who has been good about seeing I have the tools I need to do my job. He has taught me a lot too, but he is retiring in January.”
When asked what his favorite thing about Trinidad State is, he smiled and said, “Maybe all of it.”
Al Malespini, Facilities Director and Lucas’ supervisor, said, “Francisco has been awesome. He has really taken off. That campus probably looks the best in repair and cleanliness than it has ever been.”
Malespini is also being recognized as an Employee of the Year for his service as the Facilities Director, specifically for all he did to prepare the college for COVID prevention. “I didn’t think I deserved it,” he said. “If it wasn’t for the team that works with me, I would never have succeeded and gotten done what we did.”
Malespini, who chairs the college Safety Committee, helped form the college pandemic plan. With athletics, residence halls, dining facilities, classrooms and offices, the plan covers 40 pages.
“My people do most of their sanitizing with electrostatic guns which shoot a mist,” he said. “We enter the dorms wearing our masks and we keep our distance from the students who give us space to work.” Every classroom has a sanitizing cleaning kit and students help by disinfecting their study areas. Keyboards are disinfected with UV lights. “It has been a huge undertaking,” said Malespini, “but we have overcome it.”
Malespini, who was raised in Trinidad and graduated from Trinidad High, originally planned to work in the coal mines and completed several mining certificates Trinidad State offered at that time including mining electricity. His goal was to find a career that would give him a good retirement. With the decline in mining opportunities, his career with the state of Colorado would begin in maintenance at the Trinidad State Nursing Home. When that facility closed, he took a job with the Colorado Mental Health Institute in Pueblo and from there he worked at the Colorado Veteran’s Community Living Center at Homelake near Monte Vista. “I started as a part-time laborer and I worked my way up to management,” said Malespini. His 30-year career would take him full circle back to Trinidad where he is completing his work at Trinidad State. His last day is January 29.
“I’ve only had one goal here and that is to get things done,” said Malespini who has been point man on all the state projects since he came to Trinidad State four years ago. Working with a team, he has secured funding every year for projects. He conducts the building condition audits, writes the narrative about it, including cost, and then he goes, with the team, to the legislature to request funds.
Although Malespini and Lucas often keep in touch with Facetime calls, Malespini also drives to the Valley campus once a week to supervise.
Malespini is looking forward to retirement. He plans to do some improvements on his home in Trinidad and his three sons are excited that he will have time to help with their projects too. “The labor cost is cheap! I’m sure they factored that in!” he said as he laughed about helping his boys.
The two other Trinidad State Employees of the Year are Kay Evans, Massage Department Director and Terri Herbstritt, Arts and Sciences Adjunct Instructor. Both work on the Trinidad Campus.