Schwartz considers Osborne inspiration
Richard Schwartz ‘11 (top right) spoke before a crowd of student volunteers on Johnson Day last April.
When Richard Schwartz ’11 decided to reinstate Johnson Day on the Hill, he wanted to commemorate the individuals who have devoted their time and effort to improving the College community over the years.
“I thought that Johnson Day was a good idea the first time I read about it,” said Schwartz, a former assistant director of the Colby Volunteer Center (CVC). “It took Johnson Day happening last spring for me to realize that it was a great idea. Tied up in this was an interest in honoring [former College President Franklin] Johnson and [former Janitor Samuel] Osborne.”
Osborne, who the College community knew as “Janitor Sam,” worked at the College’s former downtown campus from 1867 to 1903. As noted in a special page on the College’s website devoted to activism and social justice on the Hill, Osborne’s father had worked as the College’s first janitor. When he passed away, Osborne, a former slave, left his job at the Maine Central Railroad to come to the Hill. An Echo article from 1932 notes that Osborne “was beloved by every student who passed through the college” during those years. Described in the article as “a true Colby man,” Osborne “always prided himself in his office,” and he became close with the students at the College. “His memory was wonderful,” the article stated. “He is said never to have forgotten a face. Once he even recognized the step of a graduate whom he had not seen for many years, and he called out the name before the door opened.”
Schwartz learned about Osborne while exploring the Miller Library stacks during his sophomore year on the Hill. “Immediately I drew the connection between Janitor Sam’s honest and genuine interest in looking after Colby students to my own relationship with my janitor, Robert, during my freshman year living in [Treworgy Residence Hall],” Schwartz said. “Like Sam, Robert was never too busy to strike up a conversation with me despite all the work he had….Relationships with our janitors, like relationships with our professors, push us to think and grow, but they do so in a very different way.”
Schwartz explained that while students are often aware of the former College presidents’ accomplishments, other individuals also greatly contributed to the College. “Someone like Sam Osborne is a little different, and that’s why I like his story,” Schwartz said. “It’s those members of the community—students, staff and faculty—who make Colby better through their dedication, passion and disinterest in asking for recognition or notoriety who stand out most to me.”
As explained on the website devoted to activism and social justice on the Hill, “Sam earned his popularity through his own generosity and selflessness.” He and his wife “hosted Colby students for Thanksgiving dinners, interceded on their behalf with faculty and administrators and tirelessly endured their pranks and assaults on his intelligence.”
Johnson Day is a time to “say thank you to those folks we know and to form new relationships with those members of our community that take such good care of us,” Schwartz said. He hopes that Johnson Day will prompt the College community to “recognize the modern Janitor Sam [and] the Physical Plant staff and remind them how much they mean to us.”