'Senior plant historian' retires after 44 years

By Sandra Howe
Staff Writer

Through 44 years of rain, wind, construction mishaps and the occasional blizzard, Robert Caggiano helped keep Boston College warm. Recently, Caggiano, a third-class engineer in the central heating plant, retired, but he said his memories of more than four decades of service to the University will keep him aglow.

"When I started working here, Lyons Hall was the newest building," he said in a recent interview, remarking on the considerable changes to the campus since 1951. "Boston College is part of me. I have spent my whole life here and still feel I'm a part of it, even though I've retired."

Caggiano will be welcomed back to campus on Sept. 29 for a retirement party in his honor. The ceremony will also mark the end of an era, as for the first time in 69 years there will not be a Caggiano working at Boston College; his father, Frank, was an employee from 1926 to 1974.

"Every plant has its quirks and idiosyncrasies and Bob was a seasoned veteran who was familiar with all of them," said Frank Zarrella, foreman in the Service Building Boiler Room. "I called him my senior plant historian. He could tell me what year what was installed, how it was maintained and the last time maintenance was done on something. His input was essential in helping me come up with a game plan for this facility and I wish he'd be with me for another 20 years."

Perhaps Caggiano's most visible achievement was helping start the Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning Department, which Zarrella describes as one of the most vital divisions within Buildings and Grounds. But his dedication to Boston College was never more evident than it was during the Blizzard of 1978, when he single-handedly kept the boiler room in operation for five snow-bound days.

It was an experience, Caggiano says, which felt "like being in the twilight zone." The storm hit during Caggiano's shift, quickly isolating him from co-workers unable to reach the campus. The boilers, which provide heat and hot water for all academic buildings on Lower and Middle campus, require constant attention, so Caggiano kept them running through 12 consecutive shifts with no sleep and without leaving the boiler room. He was sustained by sandwiches delivered from McElroy Commons by a similarly stranded plumber.

The storm tripped off the boiler's water pump, cutting its capacity to produce heat, he recalled, but in the end he - and Boston College - made it through.

Caggiano's relationship with Boston College goes back to his childhood in the 1940s, when his father worked as a chief engineer in the boiler room and would bring him to campus. Caggiano was eager to work and Boston College was all he knew, so one day when he was 16 he asked his father's supervisor if he could do any work. He was sent to pick up wastepaper on Alumni Field, the site of what is now the Campus Green. Two years later, he became a full-time employee, beginning as a janitor in Fulton Hall until he moved to the boiler room, where he worked with his father for the last 23 of his father's 48 years at Boston College.

Throughout his career, Caggiano had to deal with many unexpected occurrences. His scariest moment, he said, was not the Blizzard of 1978 but in a heavy rain storm during the construction of Cushing Hall in 1960. He was working alone on a Saturday shift when water began pouring through a construction-related hole in the Service Building and into the boiler room. The "waterfall" swept into the tanks, knocking out fires in the boiler, but Caggiano quickly brought the situation under control.

If there is one thing in particular Caggiano will miss about working on campus, it will be hearing the tolling of the bells in the Gasson Tower clock, which his father used to oil. But he has no plans to be idle: He will keep busy fixing up his Chelsea home and singing in his church choir.

"I don't need a chair or anything like that to remind me of my days at BC," Caggiano said. "It's a part of my life and my family, and I feel like all who work there are part of my extended family."

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