The mayors of Ghost Town

Katherine Devich and Susy Meacham are part of a crew of essential employees who still come to the CIB every day

WE MISS YOU TOO. Here are Devich, left, and Meacham demonstrating how they maintain social distance.

Coronavirus—and its unprecedented disruption to daily life at IU campuses across the state—hasn’t really affected Audrey and Gary.

The pair of houseplants, philodendrons kept by UITS employees Renee Petrina and Ben Eades, respectively, at their desks in the Cyberinfrastructure Building—are still thriving, getting water and soaking up the sunlight as they do their photosynthesis thing.

two plants

EASY BEING GREEN. Life goes on for Renée Petrina's Audrey, left, and Gary, who belongs to Ben Eades. 

They owe their lives to Katherine Devich, a receptionist who is part of an essential crew of UITS employees who work in the building each day to water plants, receive mail, take deliveries, sanitize surfaces, monitor equipment—in general, make sure the high-tech hub of the Bloomington campus keeps on humming. This small group includes Doug Chambers and Stacy Boicourt in Physical Facilities Management; Susy Meacham and Katherine Devich in Administrative Support; and Matt Tomaso, Evan Mitchell, and David Brock in Facilities. Up at the ICTC Building in Indianapolis, the essential crew includes Robin Ingram, Meredith Jent, and Peter Oleshchuk.

“We just miss everybody!” Meacham said. “We’re anxious for everyone to come back and for everything to be normal again.”

Although most employees have been told to work from home, IU campuses are not officially closed. The CIB is still open every weekday from 7:30am to 5:30pm, while its next-door neighbor, the Innovation Center, is only open to IU employees. Devich and Meacham are still doing their receptionist duties, answering the phone, receiving campus mail and U.S. mail, handling deliveries, and keeping an eye on who is coming and going from the building. They are also helping colleagues in other departments with administrative tasks as needed.

social distancing pizza party

FROM A DISTANCE. The crew enjoyed a social-distance pizza party recently. Pictured are (left to right) Susy Meacham, Stacy Boicourt, Matt Tomaso, Evan Mitchell, and David Brock. 

It can be a little lonely. “We see maybe one or two people a day,” said Meacham, who’s worked the CIB front desk for two years. “We miss the people and the hustle and bustle, especially everybody popping by and talking to us throughout the day. It’s pretty much a ghost town. Jim Thomas [of UITS TechSelect] said I’m mayor of this ghost town. Guess that makes Katherine the deputy mayor,” she said with a laugh.

Status updates for plant ‘parents’

Anyone who’s ever walked around the CIB in normal times knows UITS loves its plants. Some wings look like a workplace jungle with all the greenery. While many people took their desk plants home for the duration of the work-from-home situation—more than 100 have remained. 122, to be exact. Devich took it upon herself to care for them all, even creating a spreadsheet listing each plant, its owner, and the watering schedule.

“I love being useful,” Devich said. “And I do like plants—I’d say I have a green thumb. When people were starting to leave, I just started reaching out to those who had plants and said I’d take care of them.” She’s hauled in a two-gallon watering jug and some plant food from home, and lovingly tends to these silent “coworkers” every day. She even sends status updates to plant parents.

“I sent an email to Jacob Farmer [director of Client Services], with a picture of his rubber tree,” she recalled. “He emailed me back right away and said I made his day!”

Jacob Famer's tree

DOING JUST FINE. Jacob Farmer's rubber tree is alive and thriving, thanks to Devich's care. 

Devich had only worked at the CIB for two months before the pandemic hit, and spent most of that time being trained by Meacham and learning faces and names. In their isolation, the two women are getting closer, helping each other cope with a nearly empty building in this anxious time. They are happy to help keep the CIB—and its plants—up and running, but they do long for the time before.

“We just miss everybody!” Meacham said. “We’re anxious for everyone to come back and for everything to be normal again.”