Topliff love: Gone with the Windex?

by Steven Orbuch | 11/16/04 6:00am

Some say that the only love stories at Dartmouth involve students and their Keystones. Topliff residence hall custodians Ken and Joyce Sensenig would probably argue otherwise.

The married couple of 18 years met close to two decades ago, when they were both employees with Dartmouth Dining Services. They have worked together in Topliff for three years running.

Joyce said she enjoys working in Topliff more than she did working in DDS.

"It's tough, but it gives me peace of mind," she said.

Not all students know the two are married, but she said that most students can tell that they are not just colleagues from the tone in which she sometimes addresses him.

"I tell students not to take what I tell [Ken] seriously because I love him dearly," Joyce said.

Joyce has worked in Topliff for 18 years. Her husband joined her three years ago, after working in New Hampshire residence hall for 12 years. He said that he made the switch to ORL despite a pay cut because unlike DDS, his current job offers a five-day workweek, with regular hours and no obligations to work holidays and late evenings.

Many Topliff residents described the Sensenigs as celebrities of sorts in the cluster, known for befriending their student residents.

"They're uber-friendly," one sophomore said.

Topliff Undergraduate Advisor Susan Ivey '07 said that over the term, she's had several conversations with Ken that have lasted over 20 minutes.

"Ken will see me in the hall and stop me to talk about anything from schoolwork to hockey to what I did over the weekend," Ivey said.

Joyce proudly reflected on the relationships that the couple has made with student residents over the years. Perched on a shelf in her Topliff basement office Monday afternoon, Joyce displayed a photo showing her flanked by two former Topliff residents, Dartmouth varsity football players.

"I miss those guys," she said. "The thing is we just love being around kids. Every day we talk to them. We've even had students over to our house."

Around Topliff, Ken is perhaps best known for posting a number of tongue-in-cheek instructional signs, handwritten on red and pink hued construction paper.

"I figure it's an easier way to treat things lightheartedly and get students to do things without having to bill them," he said.

One such sign in the laundry room reads, "Please put dryer sheets in trash barrel. They don't get there by themselves." Another of his signs, found near a trash receptacle on the first floor Topliff reads: "Please do not take the plastic trash liners out of the barrels. They are for trash, not for raincoats."

About a month and a half ago, the signs landed him in a bit of hot water.

One student complained about the tone of the signs, prompting Topliff community director Steve Previll to take some down, his wife said.

Overall, though, most student-residents praised the couple for having demonstrated a knack to go above and beyond their basic duty. Ken even helped a student replace a dead car battery Monday, Topliff residents said.

And the couple said that they were glad to hear that their respect for students was largely reciprocal.

"I don't know if anyone loves their jobs all the time, but what makes most Dartmouth custodians like their jobs is that they get to interact with the students," Ken said. "If we just had to clean bathrooms and do the floors it would be really boring."

The Sensenigs currently live in Enfield, N.H. and have six grandchildren.