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Kenyon: After Custodian’s Diagnosis, Tuck Alums Get to Work

  • From left, Dartmouth College custodian Tim Covell, Laura Shen, Tuck School of Business 2017 graduate and Vicki Covell, who is married to Tim, pose for a photograph during a recent visit at the Covell's home in Wilder, Vt. (Courtesy photograph)


Saturday, October 06, 2018

For 21 years, Tim Covell has cleaned their bathrooms, moved their furniture and shoveled the walkways leading into their dorm.

Now, in Covell’s time of need, students — past and present — at Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business are doing what they can for him.

Covell, 62, recently learned that the prostate cancer he’s battled for two years has spread to his liver.

“My doctor told me that if the chemotherapy works, I could have a couple of years,” he said when we talked on the phone last week. “If it doesn’t work, I’ve only got about six months.”

After hearing that Covell was taking a leave from work to undergo treatment at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, Tuck students and alums decided to “rally the troops.” They started a GoFundMe campaign (www.gofundme.com/timcovell) just over a week ago that so far has drawn 120 donors who have contributed a total of $6,800.

The money will go toward Covell’s out-of-pocket medical expenses or whatever else the family might need help with. (His daughter Kali is getting married. More on that in a bit.)

The fundraising effort says a lot about the relationship that Covell forged with Tuck students over the years.

At many institutions, custodians are often invisible. At Dartmouth, they can go about mopping floors and emptying wastebaskets without having much interaction with MBA students who are juggling academics and social engagements. (I think they prefer to call it networking.)

But along with doing the heavy lifting — literally — around the dorm, Raether Hall, Covell went out of his way to strike up conversations with students.

His shift began at 4 a.m., meaning that he was often the first person that students saw upon leaving their rooms.

“Good morning,” he’d say with a smile. “Have a nice day.”

A small thing, for sure. But not unappreciated.

“Tim makes the world a better place,” Michael Keating, a 2018 Tuck graduate, wrote on the GoFundMe page.

“I see the students every day,” Covell said. “I try to make it feel homey for them. Sometimes, I feel like I’m their stepdad.”

Laura Shen, a 2017 Tuck graduate who is overseeing the fundraising campaign, told me that she’d be half asleep en route to the gym at 6:30 a.m. when she’d come across Covell, who was already well into his workday. He never complained about having to work around the sweaty ice hockey equipment she left overnight in the hallway. He gladly looked the other way when she was sneaking her golden retriever puppy into her room.

Business school students are often in the their mid- to late 20s and have spent some time in the working world before starting the two-year MBA program.

“We come back with a little bit of awareness of what community is. It’s not just students and professors,” said the 29-year-old Shen, who works for a Boston consulting firm. Covell was “always cheery and an unsung and often unseen member of the Tuck community,” Shen added.

While at Dartmouth last weekend, Shen stopped by Covell’s home in Wilder to visit him and his wife, Vicki.

“He knows what he’s up against, but he has the most incredible attitude about all this,” Shen said. “He’s staying very positive.”

Covell told me that he’s got a lot to live for. His daughter Kali, a 2014 Hartford High School graduate, is engaged to Forrest Matter, her high school sweetheart.

Their wedding was set for an oceanfront hotel in Maine next April. After getting his prognosis of six months to two years, Covell did the math.

“My daughter’s wedding was in seven months,” he said.

Not anymore. The couple are now marrying on Nov. 16 in the Upper Valley. “Kali’s dream wedding was on the beach, but she told me, ‘I’d rather have my dad walk me down the aisle,’ ” he said. “She had me crying.”

After Covell’s test results came in, there “really wasn’t a decision to make,” his daughter said. Growing up, Kali didn’t see her dad in the morning — he was already at work. After finishing at Dartmouth in the early afternoon, he went to his second job as a carpenter and stonemason.

“He just kept working,” she said. “He still doesn’t want to stop.”

Covell told me that he felt better about stopping after Chris Peck, president of the Dartmouth’s labor union, came to see him shortly after he got the news from his doctor. Covell will continue to get a paycheck through the college’s short-term disability plan.

“Tim is the perfect example of the relationship there can be between students and staff,” Peck said. “He was there every day; they trusted him. His personality made it made it easy for him to bond with students.”

And for them to bond with him, judging from their response to his situation.

Jim Kenyon can be reached at jkenyon@vnews.com.