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Minnesota State University, Mankato
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Retiring Custodian a Friend To All

Bill Oliver went from farm to campus.

Robb Murray, Mankato Free Press, 1-3-2014

MANKATO — The kid was from Nepal. He’d just arrived in Mankato the day before and now, here he was, early in the morning, wandering the halls of Minnesota State University’s Centennial Student Union.

He was in strange land and knew no one.

And then he met Bill Oliver.

“He looked like a lost pup,” Oliver said, recalling the day he was on the job as a maintenance worker in the CSU. “He looked like he needed something. Or someone.”

Oliver, like he’d done so many times before, sat down with the young man and listened. The young man nearly broke down that day talking to Oliver, and in that conversation a friendship was born. Four years later when that young man graduated, he invited Oliver to come visit him in Nepal sometime.

“I never went, but I thought that was nice,” he said.

Anyone who knows Oliver won’t be surprised by that story. In the 29 years that he’s worked at MSU, he’s earned a reputation as a hard-working man who always had a smile on his face. His friends and family gathered in the CSU Thursday for Oliver’s retirement party. At age 64, he’s ready to stop reporting daily to MSU and start reporting to the fishing lake.

Oliver’s journey to MSU, though, almost didn’t happen. It took a national crisis to get him here.

He was born the son of a farmer. And after he got out of the Navy, Oliver took over the family farm from his ailing father. But this was during the mid 1980s, when many family farms were lost. For Oliver, interest rates and problems with livestock eventually forced him to give up farming.

“We knew we were losing everything,” he said.

And then a friend gave him an idea. “Head up to the university,” the friend said.

“Try and get a job there.”

Which he did.

His first shift was in 1985. It was a night shift on the custodial crew. He cleaned the library. A few years later he moved to Nelson Hall. Then the Performing Arts Building. Then the residence halls. His final move came when a spot opened up in the CSU, a spot some in maintenance pass over because of the crowds. But that’s exactly what Oliver found so attractive about the building.

“I enjoy people, and I love the students,” he said. “That’s why we’re here! They’re here to learn and they’re so excited about it.”

The entire version of this story can be read in a print copy of the Mankato Free Press. Call the Mankato Free Press at 625-4451 or (800) 657-4662 to find out how to purchase a print copy. The Free Press also prints select stories online at

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