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"Mr." Dobbs, Emory's oldest residence hall, reaches the century mark in good hands

September 26, 2017

By S.A. Reid, Contributing Writer, Emory Campus Life

As its 100th anniversary celebration continues, Dobbs Hall has a lot for which to be thankful. Topping the list is a university that has supported the residence hall’s century-old existence, an adoring family of current and former residents, and – last but not least – its caretaker of late, Andrew “Andy” Allen.

During the past three years, Allen and the oldest residence hall on campus have forged as close a friendship as possible between a building and its caretaker.

“I kind of see it like an old gentleman,” said Allen, a senior building maintenance mechanic in Campus Services who is pleased that the building he affectionately calls “Mr. Dobbs” is receiving recognition for its longevity. “He’s looking frail and needs extra care and tenderness. [He’s] 100 years old now and has quite a lot of issues on a daily basis that I have to try to take care of.”

The building and its caretaker first connected when Allen was assigned to maintain Dobbs and Raoul halls, the latter of which is the newest dorm on the main campus. He and the building have since bonded over the physical plant challenges that come with old age.

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Andy Allen, Campus Services senior building mechanic, brings affection as well as expertise to the task of maintaining the century-old residence hall that he refers to respectfully as “Mr. Dobbs.” (Photo credit: Tina Change, Campus Life)

“Everyone associates Andy with the building,” said Leo Ragazzo. “Whenever Dobbs needed attention, as all facilities do, Andy’s been the one to handle it.” Ragazzo is the former Dobbs residence hall director for the Office of Residence Life, a unit of Campus Life.

Care of the university’s more than 20 residential facilities reflects one of many partnerships between Campus Life and Campus Services, with the former managing and the latter maintaining the buildings. 

Allen takes great pride in helping to make Dobbs as hospitable as possible for students who live, study, and play there. And his love and respect for Dobbs and its residents has no limits. That includes successfully advocating for ground-floor replacement windows, improved air conditioning for its common areas, and other upgrades.

It also extends to hyping the building’s special character and history to new residents disappointed with its small rooms, dearth of modern amenities, and maintenance issues.

“Andy, along with the entire maintenance staff, supports students so earnestly behind the scenes,” said Kavya Sundaram, a business major and Dobbs’ community coordinator this academic year. “It takes a lot of hard work to keep a 100-year-old building going, and Andy is behind a lot of that.”

Matthew Heldman, a Dobbs history buff who served as a sophomore advisor last year, expressed similar sentiments.

“Everyone loves Andy!” the junior history major explained. “He advocates for us hard. No matter how busy he is, he’s always able to stop and have conversations with us, check in, and make sure everything is fine.”

Allen takes pride in the relationships he’s forged with many of the students who inhabit “Mr. Dobbs,” getting to know them by name and going the extra mile so that they will feel more comfortable with alerting him to problems they may have with the building, a piece of furniture, or even their own lives.

Living in the aging residence hall with its unique challenges can be a big turnoff, especially for incoming freshmen. The uber-friendly and wisdom-sharing Allen, according to Hope Housman, plays a big role in helping them feel better about their century-old living quarters.

The emotional bond that Allen has developed with Dobbs and its residents reflects his personality. “I’m a very outgoing person,” said the recently engaged father of two adult children. “I’m a people person, so for me it’s not such a great leap.”

Residents, according to Housman, a sophomore advisor at Dobbs this past year and a rising junior, showed their gratitude earlier this year by presenting Allen with a birthday card measuring 3 feet by 4 feet and bearing their signatures.

“He just makes the building a much friendlier place. He’s really such a nice person,” Housman explained. “He has a really cool life story”

Allen has been a building mechanic for 35 years, a career he began after completing polytechnic school in his native Nottingham, England. In 1999, he came to the United States pursuing a woman whom he eventually married. After his wife, Patricia, died in 2011, Allen eventually landed at Emory and is now one of a dozen Campus Services building maintenance mechanics working the main campus.

Michael Lance Brock, who hired Allen nearly four years ago, said he couldn't be more pleased with the job his employee is doing with “Old Man” Dobbs. Allen’s past assignments include the Hamilton Holmes, Alabama, and McTyeire residence halls.

“He takes very good care of [Dobbs],” adds Brock, a facilities supervisor. “He’s one of the best I’ve got.”

Maggie Mang, a recent graduate and former resident advisor, credits Allen with “literally keeping Dobbs standing.”

As Mang puts it, “He might not be recognized for all his hard work and dedication to us and the building, but I hope he knows that each one of us truly appreciates him and is so incredibly thankful for him.” 

Photo credit: Tina Chang, Campus Life Communications