The adventures of Ron English, world traveler, now physical plant group leader
Mar. 21, 2013
Ron English has traveled the world. But he returned to his home, Bloomington, and found a satisfying
career in Building Services within the Department of the Physical Plant at IU.
He is a group leader with responsibilities for several buildings in the heart of campus: the
Mauer Law Building, the Kirkwood Observatory, Swain East and West, Rawles Hall, Lindley Hall, Kirkwood Hall and Wiley Hall. His team of 18 works out schedules to clean and maintain offices, public areas, restrooms and classrooms in each of these buildings.
When English was a junior in high school he had already made a career decision: after graduation he planned to join the Marine Corps, just like his dad. He remained in the Corps for 12 years, building runways and many other structures, including a helicopter pad for President Ronald Reagan. He spent a year in the Middle East during Desert Storm. The worst experience he had there was when the oil wells were ignited.
“It was as dark as midnight all the time. I was covered with a black mist of oil every day,” he said. “But I was lucky, I didn’t get sick or wounded like many U.S. troops there. After I returned from Iwakuni, Japan, I was stationed at Camp Pendleton, California, where I helped build a stage for Whitney Houston to perform for the Marines stationed there. It was very gratifying, and she gave us much praise.”
During his Marine Corps career, English traveled to Japan, Korea and Thailand. He returned stateside to North Carolina in 1986. He decided to return to his hometown and worked at Cleo and RCA in Bloomington. “Cleo moved to Mexico, then RCA moved to Mexico, and I decided I’d had it with manufacturing plants. I came to IU in 1996. My first day was Easter Day.”
English was a staff sergeant in the National Guard for 14 years while working at IU, retiring from the Guard in 2007. The National Guard assignments took English south to Mississippi during the recovery from Hurricane Katrina; to Newport, Ind., to guard nerve gas; and to Elnora, Ind., during a flood.
“Katrina was the worst devastation I’d ever seen," he said. "We drove trucks filled with food and water to flood victims. In one town, the only thing visible above the water was a church steeple. We saw a Corvette floating in a swimming pool. But the people there were so nice to us -- offering to make us dinner, and so grateful for our help. During that time we mostly slept in churches in our sleeping bags. We were there for a month, a long month.”
Another National Guard trip took English to the mountains of Utah. There they were taken to a large mountain observatory where they received training in using the stars and constellations to orient themselves on Earth.
“It was amazing,” English said. He also talked about the most unusual building he is responsible for on campus: the Kirkwood Observatory. Starting in March and through the summer, the observatory hosts Wednesday Open Houses. Lights around the observatory are darkened so the stars will be more visible. “We spend extra time getting the building in great shape for those events,” he said.
From his early childhood in Mitchell and Bedford, through all his travels with the military, English has met many people. One time, he and his family were at an amusement park in Kentucky when he heard someone say “Ronnie!” It was a friend from Indiana. While in Japan for a year, he overheard someone say “HPER Building” and he asked them if they meant IU in Bloomington. They did, and it turned out the folks knew his brother Rodney, who played basketball. His aunt, Sharon Brown, was a cook for Herman B Wells. She was heartbroken when Wells died March 19, 2000.
When English is not working, he enjoys time with his family: his wife, Stacy, their 3-year-old son, and his stepsons, who are 10 and 17. The 10-year-old plays soccer, flag football and basketball, and now participates in choir.
Because he reports to work at 10 p.m., English misses out on watching IU basketball games in real time, too, but he is accustomed to the night work schedule.
He recalls some difficult times at IU. “There were two really bad events at IU," he recalls. "One was in 2011, when a tornado destroyed over 300 trees on campus. It was so sad to see so many big trees torn apart and taken down. The other bad event was when Bob Knight was fired. We were working that night and were alerted to lockdown all the buildings so the students couldn’t get in and destroy things. Thank heavens for Tom Crean bringing back IU basketball glory.”
English has traveled far from southern Indiana and has always come home. He has found a home at Indiana University, too -- and judging by his broad smile, he is very happy here.