August 15, 1988. Without hesitation, Rick Arsenault recalled the first day he started working at Hillsdale College, even though he says he doesn’t remember dates well.
Arsenault, Sage Center for the Arts’ custodian, said he is aware that August will mark his 30th anniversary at the college. He has seen buildings come down and others constructed. The faculty has doubled in size. Students have come, gone, and returned. Those 30 years, though, have flown by, he said.
“It seems a lot shorter than that,” he said, shaking his head. “The kids, the professors, they’ve made the 30 years seem like nothing, actually.”
It is the students, he said, who make the work of mopping the floors and deep-cleaning Markel Auditorium worth it.
“I try to maintain the appearance as if there were VIPs touring the building every day,” he said.
It is how he treats the people he sees, too. Junior Jessica MacFarlane, a theater major, said Arsenault always greets her with a smile and asks her how she is feeling.
“It’s very positive,” she said. “I smile every time he talks to me. It’s genuine and sweet how he gets to know me and other students.”
Arsenault said he does not think much of it; that is just how he was raised.
“We’re all family here,” he said. “Even if your day is miserable, it doesn’t mean theirs has to be, too. That’s just me, I guess.”
Those brief conversations have also led to longtime friendships. He said some of his favorite memories at the college come from seeing alumni return for Homecoming and other events.
“You get close to some of them, and you hate to see them leave,” Arsenault said. “Like a parent, the kids are going to be moving out. That’s a sad memory, but they’re fond memories, too.”
While working in the Strosacker Science Building, Arsenault, always donning a Detroit Lions or Tigers baseball cap, fostered a close relationship with Andy Brown ’97. Heading from one class to the next, Brown would meet Arsenault in the hall with the baseball game playing on the radio sitting on his cart, and they would discuss their favorite pastime.
“We talked almost every day,” recalled Brown, who just was getting into radio at the time. “I told him we ought to do a sports talk show.”
That premonition became reality about 10 years ago when Brown asked Arsenault to co-host with him on his WCSR “Time Out” sports radio program at 6 p.m. on Tuesdays. Now joined by sophomore Martin Petersen, they banter back and forth on trends in sports.
“I’ve always loved sports, ever since I was 3 or 4 years old,” Arsenault said. “We get to talk about everything. I love it.”
Brown said Arsenault brings a historical knowledge of sports since he has been following longer than him, which is exactly what he wanted for the radio program.
“I didn’t want a professional broadcaster, but someone who could bring a different perspective like if you were talking at a bar or at a game,” Brown said. “He fit the bill perfectly. The listeners enjoy that he’s funny.”
His co-hosts enjoy his personality and generosity. With a bonus he received from the college one year, Arsenault purchased Lions football tickets for Brown, Petersen, and himself.
Arsenault grew up in Hillsdale. At 25, however, he sought his fortune and moved to California in the 1970s. In the Golden State, Arsenault found jobs wherever he could.
He worked at a Beverly Hills gas station and often spotted one or two celebrities a day. He shook boxer Muhammad Ali’s hand, saw drummer Ringo Starr drive by with eight or nine women in a Rolls-Royce, and gave directions to actress Jane Fonda.
“Most of them are very nice people,” Arsenault said, though he added that he finds it amazing that any TV show is made given the drama that happens behind the scenes.
Later, Arsenault drove a laundromat delivery truck that served movie studios, but the heavy Los Angeles traffic was too much, he said.
“Do I miss L.A.? Yeah, a little,” he said. “I miss the weather and the restaurants and the beautiful, long-legged tan women, but the day I had to wait two or three blocks down the street just to get on the freeway — I’m not going to play that game anymore.”
After his father died, his mother asked him if he would consider returning to Michigan. Longing the wide open roads of the country, Arsenault obliged and found work at the college.
To this day, Arsenault said he is unsure if he found what he sought in California.
“I didn’t know what I was looking for, and I think that’s true for a lot of people,” he said. “I had no idea what to expect or what I would do. I said, ‘Whatever happens, happens.’”
Maybe, though, Arsenault was meant to return home. It was a decision he does not regret at all, he said.
“I wouldn’t trade my 30 years at Hillsdale for anything,” he said.