Mateo Ramos has a smile for everyone

Mateo Ramos will put aside his collection of brooms and hiscustodial cart May 7 to retire after 10 years of lending hisfriendly face and work ethic to the offices and restrooms of SmithMemorial Student Union.

It has been a long and eventful work life for the Puerto-Ricanborn Ramos, 75. But he welcomes retirement. He’ll be 76 thisSeptember.

“I am happy to retire,” he said, “because I’m going to spendsome time with my grandchildren.” He has 11 in all, three of whomlive in Portland.

“I have some family I haven’t seen in quite a few years,” hesaid. “I’m going to go looking for them.” Some are in Puerto Rico,where Ramos still owns a home. He also owns a house in Portland.Members of his family are scattered hither and yon and will takesome searching out, he predicted.

He timed his retirement to coincide almost exactly with hisarrival at Portland State, which came May 4, 1994. He came as anemployee of Portland Habilitation Center, a company that suppliescustodial workers with disabilities to PSU. In his long andeventful life, Ramos has collected his share of disabilities, oneof the worst of which is his lingering post-traumatic stressdisorder as an aftereffect of his experience in the Korean War.

A child by his first wife died as a result of burns, and Ramosremembers the period vividly. “I went crazy,” he said. “I wascrying all day.”

He has had seven surgeries in all. He had a gall bladderremoval, three surgeries on his right eye and another on a fingerthat had ballooned to a grotesque size. His eyes still affect him.One of his first jobs for PHC was at the Casey Eye Clinic at OHSU.They put him on swing shift, and he found he couldn’t see in thedark. He kept falling down.

At Portland State, he has consistently worked Monday to Friday,9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

In his long life, Ramos has been up and he has been down. Aftergraduation from 12th grade in Puerto Rico he worked in constructionuntil he was drafted for the Korean War. He spent five and a halfyears in the military, some of it in Germany, attaining aspecialist grade equivalent to corporal. He returned to Puerto Ricoin 1957, married for the second time, and the couple moved to NewYork City the same year, at Christmas time.

In New York he worked for a novelty hat company, Jerry’s Flowersand Feathers, becoming head supervisor until internal problemsmotivated him to quit in 1965. From there, he put in four years atWelbilt Corporation, which manufactured gas and electric homeappliances.

After that, Ramos struck out into an entrepreneurial career,opening a neighborhood grocery store in Brooklyn. To his dismay, hewas urban renewal-ed out of business and got little recompense forhis property.

“I lost everything,” he recalled. “I got $450 for moving.” Hehad to sell out his merchandise at half price and his fixtures fora pittance. Before city urban renewal tore down his part of theneighborhood, he estimates his store was worth $50,000.

Then it was back to Puerto Rico, where he again tried a grocerystore, with only small success. He went into catering in 1972, didquite well at it, and was able to send his children to universitiesin Puerto Rico and the U.S. By his second marriage he has fourchildren. One of them graduated from Portland State. Another son isa doctor in Los Angeles.

While in a Veterans Administration hospital for his variousillnesses, he learned of a job being offered by PHC to veteranswith disabilities. He went through training at PHC and was sent upto OHSU. He liked the Casey Eye Clinic job because he was able tooffer translation help to patients who spoke only a Latinlanguage.

When he first came to Portland State, he not only made sure therestrooms and KPSU were clean, he also helped set up conferencerooms. Recent budget cuts dictated by the state legislature havetaken a lot of the satisfaction out of the job, he indicated.

“I could have worked another five years,” he said. But this Maywas time to go.

How was it as a job, cleaning restrooms, replacing toilet paperand paper napkins?

“It’s not a pleasant job,” he admitted, “But it keeps megoing.”

And it has human rewards.

“They treat me with respect,” he said. “The students and thestaff show me they love me. They give me strength. Make me smile.They say, ‘Hello, Mateo.’ At Aramark (the food service) all of themtreat me nicely. Those are the things that keep me going.”

Although he looks forward to spending time with family, heleaves with regrets.

“I go in the offices, they are friendly and they inspire me tolive,” he said. “Those are the things I’ll miss. It’s been awonderful experience.”