As a young man, Mike Cross says he was shy. That characterization might come as a surprise to the hundreds of Larner College of Medicine students, faculty, staff, and alumni who have come to call the longtime University of Vermont staffer their friend over the past 43 years.
Born and raised in Westford and South Hero, Vt., he graduated from South Burlington High School and went on to work at his uncle’s service station in Winooski. While there, he says he started to come out of his shell, and gained confidence dealing with customers. His real goal, however, was to work at the University of Vermont.
On October 25, 1976, he joined UVM’s custodial services team, working alongside his father in the College of Medicine’s Given Building.
“Burt Preston interviewed me, and Bob Kinville was here then; they hired me,” recalls Cross.
Back then, planters filled with red geraniums lined the main hallway in Given, and there were ashtrays in every corner. About 20 people worked in the Dean’s office, including Dean William Luginbuhl, M.D., whom Cross remembers fondly.
“He was really nice – a couple of his kids went to medical school here – and one time, he came downstairs to the custodians’ break room,” says Cross. Soon after that visit, Luginbuhl replaced the break room table and had a refrigerator and toaster oven installed. “He used to hold an annual turkey dinner for maintenance and custodian staff, too,” Cross adds.
With more than four decades under his belt, Cross is a marvel, able to remember the names of nearly everyone who has walked through the halls of the College of Medicine, but especially the students.
“I first met Mike 40 years ago, in 1979, as a new medical student.” says Morris Earle, M.D.’83. “He was always friendly and welcoming and made the time to chat and check in with how things were going. My classmate Lynn Luginbuhl [Dean Luginbuhl’s daughter] had the same experience. After Lynn and I got married and had children, two of them went to the College of Medicine – Ben Earle, M.D.’16 and Will Earle, Class of 2020. Mike was the same welcoming presence for them, even before he knew they were related to us.”
Earle’s recollection is only one of dozens shared by alumni, staff, and faculty to recognize Cross’ November 1 retirement. Read more memories and well-wishes here
In four decades, Cross has gathered countless memories. Some stand out a bit more than others:
- About 25 years ago, Cross was present for a medical student’s wedding in Hall A (formerly located on the second floor of the Given building) right before the holidays in December. “She wanted to get married in front of all of her classmates” and then had a formal wedding in Florida, he says.
- There once was a major flood in the cafeteria, which had a tile floor back then. While working on cleaning up the water, Cross fell and got wet and was given a pair of scrubs to wear the rest of the day.
- Years ago, medical students had permission to hold post-exam parties in the old student lounge, which was located in the southern hallway of the first floor of the Given building where the College’s Technology Services unit has offices currently. “The lounge has moved around a lot over the years,” says Cross with a smile. “It had a tile floor and a ping pong table.”
- In 2008, the medical students dedicated the yearbook to Cross and former Chair of Surgery Steven Shackford, M.D.
- In 2016, then first-year medical student Harris Syed ’20 found out it was Cross’ 40th anniversary at UVM and quickly organized a surprise celebration, where 40 to 50 students gathered in a circle and sang happy anniversary to him and served homemade cookies.
Cross calls the surprise party “a big morale booster,” but adds “that’s how students are here – very personable and compassionate. Little things like that really tug on your heart,” he admits.
The medical students feted Cross again October 29 with a lunchtime retirement party, the first of several parties held his final week at UVM.
Despite the passing of many years, there are a couple of constants, says Cross. “Carpenter Auditorium and the students are the only things that have stayed the same,” he says. “Students are so nice, very friendly, open; they’re like family.”
He has “regulars” among the faculty and staff, too, with whom he has daily chats, including Chair of Pediatrics Lewis First, M.D., the UVM Foundation Academic Health Sciences staff, and Department of Pathology and Laboratory Science staff.
The feeling has been more than mutual. In 2017, Cross was nominated by students and staff for a UVM Our Common Ground award, which recognizes staff members who model the university’s Our Common Ground statement of aspirations and shared values for the UVM Community and have made extraordinary contributions and had a significant impact on the University. He easily qualified for the award.
Cross’ manager, UVM Academic and Administrative & Athletics Zone Manager Guy Shane, was one of his nominators, and continues to be one of his biggest fans.
“Mike is truly a once-in-a-lifetime type of employee,” says Shane. “He brings an incredible work ethic and dedication to a job well-done along with respect and honest caring for the people and customers he works with.”
Shane and hundreds of other UVM community members gathered in a Health Sciences Research Facility conference room on October 30 to celebrate Cross and congratulate him at his big retirement party.
“I've been in and out of the UVM Larner College of Larner College of Medicine for 22 years, and Mike has been like the North Star,” says Thomas Ahern, Ph.D., assistant professor of surgery. “It is hard to imagine this place without his kind presence.”
Cross promises he will still be around, engaging in activities with the UVM Foundation’s medical alumni relations unit, and possibly joining the College’s admissions committee. And now he’ll have more time for his antiques dealer business – called “The What Have Ya” – which he established in 1984.
Life as a retiree, says Cross, will be “a new book, not a new chapter.”
View a slideshow of Mike Cross photos.