Custodian revives sculpture


After Joseph Mendez cleaned the area surrounding the pond, the sculpture of the dragon tail is easily visible. Photo by Fernanda Martinez/ The Runner

Fernanda Martinez


Last week, an unsung member of the custodial staff at CSU Bakersfield received recognition for renovating an area on campus and revealing a hidden treasure.
In 2010, CSUB had a one-of-a-kind sculpture installed on its grounds. It was a 25-foot-tall dragon tail that spiraled and was made out of branches and rebar. The sculpture was created by Korean artist Byoung-Tak Mun, who was invited to CSUB to create and install his sculpture with the help of art students.
Mun spent two weeks on campus building the dragon tail and it was later placed in the pond located on the west side of campus. The Humanities Office Building now stands next to the pond with the sculpture.
The dragon tail was to represent Korean mythology and nature. The sculpture that CSUB has was Mun’s final sculpture of nine that were placed in different countries around the world and the only one in the United States.
In recent years, the pond was drained during the drought and the area surrounding it became neglected. The dragon tail soon was buried by a wall of tall weeds and grass.
CSUB custodian, Joseph Mendez, who has been working on campus for 26 years, noticed the poor condition of the pond and decided to do something about it.
“I would hate to know that this artist came back to Bakersfield, in our campus and saw that his work was not taken care of,” said Mendez.
As a custodian, Mendez’s job only requires him to do cleaning services for offices, classrooms, and public areas on campus. He was not able to work on renovating the pond while on the job. So he decided to volunteer his time to bring it back to life.
“One of the things I knew that I could not do is work in another unit during work hours so what I did was work in the weekends so that I wouldn’t conflict with other units and what they did,” said Mendez.
According to Mendez, he received a lot of attention for doing a job that was outside of what was required of him. He went to his union and asked if there was anything that he could do that would allow him to continue his project. Mendez said he was given a volunteer form.
CSUB currently has a program called Campus Beautification that is dedicated to “beautify” the campus and is overseen by Dr. Thomas Wallace, vice president of student affairs.
Wallace explained that one of the first things he noticed when he first arrived to CSUB was its beautiful campus, but litter was lying all over.
“I put a call out for people to come and talk about what we could do as a campus to keep the campus clean and beautiful,” said Wallace. That was when they created a committee that would dedicate time to keep the campus clean and beautiful.
Part of the work done within the committee are the monthly campus clean ups.
“We have individuals that come from every department, faculty, staff, and students. Athletics [has] taken it a step further,” said Wallace. “They send a different team every time that we do campus clean up.”
Wallace said that the campus is divided into zones that can be adopted by a group on campus to keep the area clean. “That’s what Joseph and his crew did as many others have done in our campus. They identify an area and that’s their zone and they are to keep that zone clean and beautiful,” said Wallace.
When Mendez adopted the area on Dec. 10, 2018, he was unsure about what the guidelines were. He said he looked at the areas that were neglected and began doing what he thought would beautify the area.

Mendez cuts the weeds and grass formed around the pond.

Photo courtesy of Joseph Mendez

“I started trimming the trees, getting rid of the wall and the vines, and then I found out that all I had to do was pick up trash,” said Mendez.
Regardless of what the guidelines for adopting an area were, Mendez said he wanted to do the extra work.
“I liked doing that and the comments that I got from various people all across the campus as far away as athletics were nothing but good things,” said Mendez. “That excited me and I thought, well what if I could bring it back to its former glory? I only worked on it five hours out of the weekend. It was not a problem to do it.”
Mendez received recognition along with the rest of the custodial department from Dr. Wallace and CSUB President Lynnette Zelezny on Feb. 7.

Mendez and the custodial staff receive the award from President Zelezny on Feb. 7, 2018.

Photo by Fernanda Martinez/ The Runner

“There’s a subcommittee of the campus beautification team that goes out and looks at the whole campus and then they will identify an area that is the cleanest of the areas that they have seen on campus,” said Wallace.
This month, Mendez’s adopted area received the recognition.
“The reason this is such an important celebration is that one of our key values of CSUB is sustainability and beautification,” said Zelezny. “I’m really proud that [CSUB is] one of two colleges in the nation that is a Keep America Beautiful [affiliate] so this is a huge accolade on our value related to CSUB and sustainability and beautification.”
Mendez mentioned that even though he did the work on his own, he did not want to leave his department out of the recognition.
“One person can spark the desire in other people to do better, and it just takes a spark to create a fire. And this is what I’m role modeling,” said Mendez.
Mendez said that he sees potential for more renovations around the pond. While volunteering his time to renovate it, Mendez collected 133 bags of trash and debris and took seven trips to the dumpster. He said he has noticed people and wildlife being attracted to the area.

Mendez collected 133 bags of trash and debris around the pond and made 7 trips to the dumpster.

Photo courtesy of Joseph Mendez

“I do this because I love the university. The university is good to me,” said Mendez. “The students, the faculty, they all treat me nice. So why not give back while you’re here so that other people can enjoy the goodness that you can give?”