Caring for the island
When SPU students step onto the dock at Blakely Island, their arrival has been anticipated and planned for by longtime caretakers LeRoy and Cindy Hubbert.
For the past 21 years, it has been LeRoy who greets the undergraduates as their feet find land again. As facility manager, he’s the one who has made sure canoes float ready on Spencer Lake, waiting for students to climb in and collect water samples.
In the nearby lab classroom, he has double-checked that the heat’s on and all of the equipment is in working order.
The scent of freshly baked cookies wafting through the air? That’s Cindy’s handiwork. The bottomless cookie jar is just the beginning of her culinary talents. Meal after hearty meal is served, with a side of humor and sass. And the guest services coordinator has ensured the students’ dorm rooms are clean, the beds awaiting the deep sleep of exhausted young scientists.
SPU Professor of Biology Tim Nelson, director of the field station, marvels at LeRoy’s many talents. “I’ve seen him fly a plane and troubleshoot more electrical and plumbing issues than I can recall,” he says.
“Cindy is an unstoppable dynamo,” Nelson says. “She keeps students in line and amused with her wit and wisdom.”
“Just the mention of their names makes me light up,” says Esperanza Ortega, a senior physiology major and aspiring physician. “They are one of the most hardworking, thankful, and giving couples that I know. Both Cindy and LeRoy have turned the field station into a place of inclusion, conversation, and a home away from home. They are a cornerstone to building community for the biology department.”
The Hubberts arrived on Blakely from Michigan in 1996. LeRoy had worked in construction, tended rental properties, and was an independent type. Raised in a family of 10, Cindy knew a thing or two about cooking for a crowd. They fit.
Summers are intense, as six consecutive classes arrive during Summer Sessions. Cindy works 14-hour days, prepping every meal for an average of 15 people. The 465 dozen cookies she baked last year? A bad habit, she says.
In addition to making sure everything’s ready for students, LeRoy hauls garbage, picks up mail, maintains the lawn, refuels vehicles, and wages war against field mice.
In between groups, LeRoy flies Cindy and her grocery list to Anacortes for a supply run. Fall and spring bring student researchers most weekends, but winters are quiet.
For both, students are the best part of their jobs. “The buildings are just buildings. They don’t have a pulse until the students arrive,” says LeRoy. “Then everything comes to life.”
The pair will retire after next summer and move to Arizona. Their plans? “Nothing,” says Cindy, her sigh tinged with both longing and sadness. “I am tired, but I’ll miss it.”
LeRoy agrees. “All of my skills and experiences came into focus here,” he says. “I’m doing what I was designed to do.”