His trademark shiny black boots have walked the halls of Suffolk County Community College’s Eastern Campus for more than 35 years.
As the longest-serving employee on campus, Junius Atkins Jr. of Riverhead has garnered a reputation as an innovative professional and all-around stand-up guy since he started as a part-time custodian in 1977, when the Riverside campus opened.
In less than five years, Mr. Atkins’ work ethic was recognized with a promotion to a supervisory role in 1981. And at a college ceremony held Nov. 7, he received the SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Classified Service in recognition for his leadership and dedication to his job. The award is presented annually to five employees of the entire SUNY school system, an organization that includes 29 campuses and 50,000 employees statewide.
“Of all the things over the years, this award really stands out to me,” the 59-year-old said. “It was unexpected.”
A 1974 Riverhead High School graduate, Mr. Atkins was originally encouraged by a neighbor who worked at the SCCC Selden Campus to apply for a job with the newly built campus in Riverhead in late 1976, he recalled.
“I was interviewed and I started the job on Jan. 27, 1977,” he said. That same year, he married his wife, Sharon. They later had a daughter, Kira, who still lives in the area.
On a daily basis, Mr. Atkins now oversees the maintenance of six buildings — including SCCC’s culinary off-campus arts building in downtown Riverhead — as well as 12 employees.
During his 37 years on the job, Mr. Atkins has paid close attention to new trends in what is generally considered a field with little innovation. His achievements include implementing a computerized work order system, adopting green cleaning products and championing the use of zero emissions vehicles for campus transport. He also installed “control solutions centers” in each custodial closet that allow workers to measure out cleaning solutions more precisely.
“It limits chemical waste,” he said.
In addition to staying on top of every aspect of his own job, Mr. Atkins is also known for going the extra mile to make life more pleasant on campus. In May, he was instrumental in keeping sneezes at bay by keeping green pine tree pollen out of campus buildings. In 1995, he also stepped up campus maintenance to accommodate emergency crews by using the college as a command center when battling a massive wildfire that expanded from the school’s southern border to Westhampton.
While a lot has changed since he started in 1977, Mr. Atkins said he has been very impressed by the college’s growth. He remembers the days when graduating classes consisted of only 100 students. Today, the school has more than 4,000.
“I knew the campus would grow,” he said. “I just didn’t know it would grow this much.”
Watching that growth has been one of the most rewarding aspects of working at SCCC’s Eastern Campus, he said. And job security at a growing campus is a large part of what has kept him there for so long.
“There are a lot of different people and a lot of different events,” Mr. Atkins said. “It is an ideal place to work — an interesting place to work.”
Although Mr. Atkins Jr. was surprised to receive the SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Classified Service, his colleagues said the recognition was overdue.
“He is a constant professional,” said then director of plant operations Nicholas Palumbo, who nominated Mr. Atkins for the award. “He is the type of employee you want on your staff. He has outlasted everyone and knows everything about the campus and how things work.”
A perfectionist in both his professional and personal life, Mr. Atkins doesn’t skimp on being neat and tidy when he is off the clock, noted Mr. Palumbo. He called his 1999 Mustang coupe “immaculate” and his signature black work boots “impossibly shiny.”
Mr. Atkins — who said he likes to attend car shows and travel in his free time — has been shining his boots weekly for more than two decades.
“I just hate dull boots,” he said. “I hate dull everything.”