I Spy Someone making a difference.
Ken and Donna Capps embrace the Humanities familyby Corrie Lee Lacey
Although their own children are grown, Ken and Donna Capps still have plenty of nurture to go around.
A student steps out of a classroom of the Thomas W. and Robin W. Edwards College of Humanities and Fine Arts building, hacking and coughing. Ken slips into his “office,” as he calls it, the custodian closet on the second floor. He grabs a handful of Halls cough drops and rushes back to aid the sick student.
A coed’s car won’t start. It’s getting dark, and she looks panicked. Donna calmly walks to the sputtering vehicle and offers the girl a ride home.
A student assistant in the Edwards building will be leaving soon to attend graduate school and is low on cash. The grand opening of a theater store in Conway is tomorrow, and there are a number of things she would like to buy. The Capps surprise her with a $75 gift card.
Ken and Donna, husband and wife, have been working together for 35 years – 21 of which have been spent as custodians at Coastal Carolina University.
According to most faculty in the building, Ken and Donna “pretty much run the place.” And as the oldest member of facility management, Ken says Coastal is their second home, the students – their children.
“Working around these kids makes you feel younger,” says Ken. “You really get attached, and you find yourself wanting to help them and take care of them.”
The Capps moved to Conway in 1989 from a small town near Cleveland, Ohio, after Ken lost his job of 28 years in a printing factory as a print technician, a career both his father and grandfather had pursued as well.
“We vacationed in Myrtle Beach for 14 years,” says Donna. “Ken promised that if he ever quit working in the print factory, we’d move to Myrtle Beach. When he lost his job, I was the happiest person in the world.”
The couple has seen a lot of changes on Coastal’s campus through the years. Ken worked in the humanities office when it was located above the library. Donna worked in the Wall building and the gym. When the Edwards College was built, Ken moved across campus. After a short stint there, he asked if Donna could move to the new building to help with the increasing workload.
“I asked the supervisor at the time, ‘If I don’t like working with him, can I go back?’” Donna laughed. “Needless to say, I stuck it out.”
Since the two have been in the new building, the faculty and students have embraced the couple, who are easy to love.
Over the years the Capps have given flowers to professors who’ve made tenure, taken staff out to dinner, helped students in financial trouble, attended weddings and picnics hosted by faculty members. They’ve worked numerous football games and even made a banner to send the basketball team off at the airport. They’ve donated to the Paul Rice Poetry Broadside Series and the Words to Say It Visiting Writers series. For three years they treated Alan Hickman, a marine biology major who worked as their student assistant, to a special dinner on the condition that he earn good grades.
“He used to tell us we were like his parents, but better,” says Donna.
The two even invited a student, who was having a hard time financially, to live with them for a short while, and surprised her when they went out with her one night to watch Virtue Trap, Coastal’s faculty rock ’n’ roll band, perform.
“We do what we can,” says Ken. “The people we are surrounded by are what make this job so great. And we love developing a relationship with each of them.”
“It’s getting harder, though,” says Donna. “Each year we meet new freshmen and watch them grow. Eventually they graduate and move on. It’s getting harder to see them leave.”
At 63, Donna’s not sure how much longer she’ll be at Coastal. But 72-year-old Ken says he plans to be here for many more years to come.
“As long as I have my health, I’m going to keep on going,” says Ken. “I don’t plan to leave this place any time soon.”
After working together for 35 years, Donna and Ken have a pretty solid routine.
“We split up,” says Ken. “She does her area, and I do my area. And then we meet back for dinner.”
“And if he ever gets out of line,” laughs Donna. “We just close the door and duke it out.”
Over the years, Ken’s “office” walls have become cluttered with newspaper clippings and notes from students. He’s also accumulated a collection of bizarre gifts as well – stuffed animals, a baby doll with a spider pasted to its forehead, a bloody finger, a rubber chicken. A stockpile of fireballs and peppermint patties is stashed in the corner, and he distributes the candy daily to anyone who passes by.
Although the Cappses enjoy the company of students, the summer months are less stressful and allow the couple to spend more time with their own family. Ken and Donna have a son, Buddy, and daughter, Dawn, and a 10-year-old grandson, Devin, who lives near Dallas. They have a number of fish, and Ken even enjoys “petting” them on occasion.
The two go to the beach every weekend and have accumulated an impressive collection of shark teeth over the years. They always enjoy trying something new and love good company.
“I wouldn’t make it from day to day without them,” says Claudia McCollough, director of the Jackson Center for Ethics and Values. “They’re there through everything – happiness, sadness. They even nursed me through cancer. They are family.”
“They truly are an amazing couple,” says Amanda Price, assistant director of the Jackson Center for Ethics and Values.
Ken and Donna say they’ve really enjoyed their time spent at Coastal.
“When we moved down here, it was the beginning of our second life,” says Donna. “And now Coastal is our second home.”