Behind the scenes: Athletes appreciate Butler’s laundry staff

By Maria Leichty (mleichty@butler.edu)

It was her second day of working at Butler University. A football player came into her office and asked for a cup.

She dutifully brought him a plastic Pepsi cup.

No, he said, not that kind of cup.

Jennifer Johnson, sometimes referred to by athletes as “the laundry lady,” is the assistant equipment manager for Butler athletics.

She started at Butler six years ago.

Her job title does not do justice to the amount of work she does and time she puts in.

“There is so much that goes on behind the scenes,” Johnson said.

The constant swooshing of the washing machines and beat of the dryers can be heard all day throughout Hinkle Fieldhouse’s basement.

Music blares and “Mrs. J” is, once again, hard at work.

“The machines run from whenever we get here until about 11 at night.” Johnson said.

There are two big washing machines, one regular washing machine and three dryers. From baseball pants to football towels to soccer jerseys, these six machines see it all.

She does laundry for 12 of the 15 varsity sports. The only sports she does not work with are swimming and men and women’s golf.

“I do laundry for probably about 275 out of the 300 athletes,” she estimated and jokingly added, “as well as for my own family.”

Working with the football team takes up most of her time.

The 105 players each have one set of practice clothes.

Now that the Butler Bowl has lights, they practice late—sometimes until 9 p.m.—and need their laundry done before weightlifting begins at 6 a.m., she said.

John Harding

“It’s mind-numbing, the laundry,” Johnson said.

She does have help from four other people: her boss and three student-workers.

Johnson’s boss, John Harding, is a key part of the laundry operation. They share an office next to the laundry room and both coordinate all the laundry for the 12 teams.

“We lay out each team’s schedules and coordinate the laundry from there,” Johnson said.

They communicate with the coaches for scheduling and players if anything goes missing.

Assistant softball coach Meaghan Slack coordinates the laundry with them for her team.

She calls, emails or texts Johnson with game times so she can get uniforms ready.

“I normally see her every day,” Slack said. “We’re close.”

One day, the softball team played at 4 p.m.

Johnson came back to Hinkle after the game and stayed until 10:30 p.m. to get uniforms ready for the next day.

“The amount of time that she and John put in is ridiculous,” Slack said.

Harding said the job is more organization than education.

“Doing laundry is just doing laundry,” Harding said. “It’s work. It’s physical and continual.”

Harding started 20 years ago when laundry was only done for the football team. He is retiring in July, and Johnson is first in line for his position.

“She knows as much about it as I do now,” Harding said.

But their relationship extends beyond laundry.

“I hate to leave at night, because it is just so much fun working with her,” Harding said. “We have a very good working relationship, and I would go as far as to say that we’re friends.”

If one is gone, the other picks up the other’s share of work. One week, Harding took a vacation with his family, so Johnson had to do all of the work. The same happens when Johnson leaves.

Jennifer Johnson

Johnson said her work mostly goes unnoticed. Some athletes hardly even know who she is.

“I always wondered who did my laundry,” freshman track runner Chelsea Stephan said. “I assumed it was just a student.”

Johnson is the invisible hand that returns the clean laundry. However, to those athletes who do know her, she is a warm conversation.

“The best part of this job is the kids,” Johnson said.

Brooke Ruffolo, a freshman volleyball player, said she knows Johnson because she takes the volleyball laundry down to her office occasionally.

“She is really good with names and always up-to-date with everything going on with sports,” Ruffolo said.

Kayla Gray, a senior softball player, said she likes to visit Johnson’s office often.

“She set an example for me because her door is always open and she is a very welcoming person,” Gray said.

Gray even makes it a point to introduce Johnson to teammates who do not know who she is.

“I know that she is one of the nicest people on campus and would do anything for anybody,” Gray said.

Harding wanted to put a sign at the end of the hall leading to their office saying, “If you don’t want conversation, don’t come down.”

“I was apprehensive because I know what equipment managers do,” Johnson said. But, she said she learned quickly that “there is so much more to it than just laundry.”

Underneath Hinkle’s famous basketball court, the athletic training room, the locker rooms and all the management offices lie three wash-machines, three dryers and two very dedicated individuals.

Although it may seem secluded, Johnson’s office is always open to students.

“I love being the mom in the basement,” she said.

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