Section: Features

Kenyon’s unsung heroes

 

Bob Haws, AVI staff

Older man holding a white plate of orange dessert squares.
Bob Haws holdis a plate of desserts

“Old Bob” Haws is a friendly face you might have seen at Peirce Dining Hall’s dessert counter while grabbing some treats. Although his easy manner and cheery greetings make it seem like he’s been at Kenyon forever, Haws has only been here since January of this year.

Haws has worked a variety of odd jobs in Mount Vernon, including as a delivery boy, educator, and used car salesman, but he said that working as part of the Peirce Dining Hall staff is “the sweetest job” that he’s had. 

While Haws’ responsibilities are fairly straightforward — collecting dishes from the bins around campus and plating desserts at the dessert counter — he sees a much more personal responsibility in his work. He loves that he is able to interact with students and said he views himself as “an ambassador of goodwill” to the student body.

“Kindness that was shown is kindness that is returned” is Haws’ motto. Whether it is a warm smile, a friendly greeting or a fistbump (a fist hug, as he calls it), Haws strives to spread cheer to as many people as he can each day.

His enthusiastic friendliness is an expression of three core beliefs: compassion cannot be bought, everyone universally needs acceptance and showing a person compassion is giving them acceptance without their having to earn it. Haws strives to give these small but important expressions of acceptance back to the Kenyon community, which he feels has shown great warmth and kindness to him.

He said the students who have shown kindness to him at Kenyon are far too many to count, and he refused to list them off for fear of forgetting just one instance. Haws said he hopes to repay the friendliness shown to him by building a “kindness network,” and that with each and every smile or greeting he can alleviate even just a bit of the stress and struggles that students suffer through, be it exams, essays or more personal issues. To Haws, the dessert counter is only the beginning.

Haws’ efforts have not been in vain. He has inspired a group of students to organize a gathering of those that also subscribed to Bob’s beliefs on sharing compassion, calling themselves “Bob’s Desserts Kindness Crew.”

Bob shows that the sweetest dessert of all is kindness and a smile. To those who might be having a bad day, Haws has just one thing to say: “I am here for you.”

 

David Pierce, Locksmith 

A man in a blue shirt with US Mail combination locks in the background.
David Pierce in his office.

When you walk into the office of David Pierce, Kenyon’s locksmith, the first thing you notice is a massive poster of Houdini in shackles, hung over a collection of vintage locks and handcuffs.

Pierce, a former escapologist, cultivated his collection through trades with his fellow magicians. One unusual pair of handcuffs from the early 20th century only has room for the detainee’s thumbs. “I wish I had some of those he’s escaping from in the poster there,” Pierce said, gesturing toward Houdini, “but those are upwards of $1,000.”

Pierce grew up on a farm in Alfred, N.Y., where his father was a professor of agriculture at SUNY Alfred. When he was very young, his grandfather told him the code to the combination lock on their mailbox.

“It fascinated me that you had to have a secret combination to open them,” said Pierce. “Back in the day, all the lock manufacturers were competing with each other for post office contracts, so you would get all these different designs.”

Soon, Pierce began studying Houdini and picking locks after school. Sometimes, he would pick the bicycle lock on the door to the fridge where his father stored the chocolate milk. At the age of 17, he challenged a member of the New York State Bureau of Criminal Investigation to lock him into a pair of standard issue handcuffs on stage, from which he escaped to a standing ovation.

David Pierce has been employed as Kenyon’s locksmith for the past 30 years. After graduating from the National School of Locksmithing and Alarms in Manhattan, Pierce went to one of the school’s administrators and asked where he could get work.

“He literally pulled open a file drawer,” Pierce said, “he pulls a card out with two fingers, and he says, ‘I’ve got this from Gambier, Ohio, but nobody wants to go to Ohio.’ Most of the guys graduated from there, they were from the city and stayed in the city. I said, ‘Now, wait a minute. I might want to go to Ohio.’”

These days, Pierce mostly saves his performances for his grandchildren, although he occasionally attends chapter meetings of the International Brotherhood of Magicians in Columbus. His main hobby now is collecting. Besides a baffling number of vintage locks and keys (one of which is a vintage lock from a Kenyon dorm, which Pierce studied to reverse-engineer his own key), Pierce is a collector of pottery, art-deco clocks and toy pistols.

He also has a small collection of early train conductors’s hole-punchers. The shape each hole-puncher makes is unique to the conductors who owned them, to prevent fraud. These hole-punchers would be passed down through generations, and sometimes, conductors were buried with them. Pierce said he tries to bring that same personal care to his work with locks. “You gotta be historically interested to be the person I am,” Pierce said.

None of the collector’s items in Pierce’s office are run by electricity, and hardly any were made in the second half of the 20th century. “It’s the human element,” said Pierce, who bemoans the digitized mechanisms of a K-Card reader. “Each of these old locks were made by hand, and if you listen to these locks, they’ll talk to you. ”

 

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