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Custodian reflects on life, work

| Thursday, November 8, 2018

Brian Hubbard is not your average Joe.

He wakes up before dawn, puts on a pair of blue jeans and a T-shirt — the Notre Dame 2018 Shirt is his favorite — and makes his way to Rockne Memorial to begin a shift that starts at 4 a.m. and ends at noon. He signs in, picks up his supplies and embraces his role as a custodian.

Taller than average, he has a sunny disposition and is usually whistling tunes. He is observant, knows those who frequent his work sites and is eager to strike up a conversation or humor a stressed student.

Though people on campus might see Hubbard wiping down the tables or throwing away the trash, beyond his run-of-the-mill facade lies a story of basketball championships and altruism.

Born in 1962, Hubbard is a South Bend native who attended LaSalle High School, where he played basketball. His love for the sport stems from his family, as his uncle taught him soccer, baseball, football and basketball from a very early age. However, he became enamored with shooting hoops, eventually making it to the state all-star high school team.

Hubbard said this chapter in his life taught him several lessons that significantly impacted him, and credits his coach with building his character.

“I had a coach by the name of George Griffith, who, at the end of my senior year told me … ‘You guys are not working hard,’” Hubbard said. “He said, ‘If you don’t work hard and start working hard, I’m going to cut you.’ I said, ‘Wait a minute,’ and I believed him because I’d seen him cut players. So basically, I give a lot to him because he made me work.”

This incident opened Hubbard’s eyes, he said, and he started working hard until he made the Indiana High School Basketball Hall of Fame and became part of the Indiana All-Star team in 1980. Hubbard also received a scholarship to play for Valparaiso. He fondly looks back to his time at “Valpo” and, when prompted to talk about his experience there, grabs his phone to show a photo of him playing against Notre Dame. Though his team lost the game against the Irish, he cherishes the memory of playing against John Paxson, who went on to play for the Chicago Bulls alongside Michael Jordan.

“That’s one of the things I go back and look at sometimes because it means a lot to me,” Hubbard said. “This was a team I grew up watching and grew up admiring, and to come home and play against them in my first year of my college career was like a dream come true.”

After studying at Valparaiso for two years, Hubbard decided to take a break and started working on-call at the University of Chicago hospital. In his free time, he would watch basketball games. Through this hobby, Hubbard suddenly had a revelation that would change his path in life.

“I was working at home and watching TV, and I’m looking at a game, and I said, ‘I had 20 on that guy,’” he said. “I’m looking at another game, and I had 25 on that guy. So I said, ‘What am I doing here?’ So I made some phone calls and 10 schools came to look at me.”

After 10 different coaches arrived with scholarship offers, Hubbard decided to attend Western New Mexico University. By doing so, Hubbard had the opportunity to play abroad in Glasgow, Scotland.

After returning from Scotland and realizing he wanted to start working again, Hubbard decided to renew his career at the University of Chicago hospital because of his desire to help people. There, he was an emergency room clerk, helicopter dispatcher and clerk supervisor.

“Working at the hospital, I get the gratification of helping folks, of being there for people,” Hubbard said of this job.

After roughly two decades of devoting himself to assisting those in need, Hubbard found himself unemployed.

Undiscouraged, though, he decided to come home to look for a job, eventually attaining one at Notre Dame’s Center for Culinary Excellence in 2016. After some months there, he transferred to Building Services and became one of the chattiest custodians at Hesburgh Library. Though he worked late hours, Hubbard enjoyed working at the library. Being able to meet new people and crack jokes to make them smile, he said, was the most rewarding part of the job for him.

“I’m a people person,” Hubbard said. “ … I do like what I’m doing, and I’m around good people, friendly people. I like the atmosphere, and I’m also still helping folks.”

After various months of cultivating relationships with students and wiping down messes at the library, Hubbard was transferred to Knute Rockne Memorial Gymnasium. He dislikes that it is quite a bit lonelier than his job at Hesburgh, but appreciates that he is still able to work from 4 a.m. to noon. Though he has to wake up early, he said this shift enables him to spend the rest of the day as he wishes.

Though he admits to occasionally sleeping and taking some time to watch basketball games, Hubbard usually spends the day working on his upcoming grand project: getting his nonprofit off the ground.

The Cast the Family Spirit Picnic, an annual festival which will take place in the summer, is Hubbard’s attempt to unify the South Bend community.

“It is for every and anybody that’s breathing,” he said. “It is not an African American thing. This is not a white thing. It’s not a Jewish thing, not an Asian thing. … It’s an everybody thing. I’m trying to bring more unity into our community because, you know, there’s a lot of negative and bad things going on, not only here but all over the country. I don’t think there’s enough activity — diverse activities — going on in South Bend, and that’s what made me come up with this.”

Through his nonprofit, Hubbard has coordinated other events in the past aiming to bring back the tight-knit spirit that characterized the South Bend of his childhood. On this occasion, he promises to deliver a nice time, when all citizens — regardless of their race, status or ideology — can come together while listening to music and eating as a family.

Hubbard sees a substantial number of students on the sites were he works and makes the effort to put a name and a story to the hundreds of faces that surround him.

“If there’s one thing you should know about me, it’s that I’ll be here,” he said.

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