By Lindsay Mower – Staff Reporter
If you’re roaming the halls of Merrill Hall late in the evening, perhaps while taking the opportunity to practice piano with no one else around to listen, you’ll always have at least one audience member: this is Woody Woodcock, the custodian who works the night-shift in Merrill Auditorium and Emery Community Arts Center.
A graduate of Livermore Falls High School, Woodcock is no stranger to Franklin County, as he would proudly tell you. After working at the IGA Foodliner in Farmington (now known as Save-A-Lot) for 15 years, Woodcock worked at Otis Paper in Jay for 23 years until they went out of business. He was unemployed for three months before getting a custodial position at UMF, where he worked for a year and half, before leaving to take a more familiar position at Verso Paper in Jay. “I liked working for UMF, but when you do the same job for 25 years, you believe that is the only thing you’re supposed to do.”
Though he knew he made a mistake leaving UMF the first day he started work at Verso, Woodcock continued to work there for eight months. “I regretted leaving this place every time I went to work,” he said. After a short time doing custodial work at the Maine General Hospital in Augusta, Woodcock’s past position at UMF became open for grabs. “I applied for it, and I got it,” he said. He’s now been at UMF for five years.
Given the amount of time Woodcock spends in Nordica Auditorium in Merrill, he says he’s naturally become familiar with Lilian Nordica, the famous opera singer from Farmington who inspired the naming of the auditorium. He claims that Bill Green, of Bill Green’s Maine, who did a feature on Lilian Nordica, interviewed the wrong man, and that he has the best story to tell about her.
Woodcock says, “I used to go by her portrait in Nordica and salute her and say, ‘Hi there!’, just being silly like I am. I did it because I was coming into her auditorium. I did that every day.” Describing a time when he was alone in the old Mount Blue TV room on a late summer night, he said he realized that he’d forgotten to empty the recycling. “I didn’t bother to put the lights back on, I know where I’m going. I’m like a mouse in the dark,” he said.
That was when Woodcock says he heard a woman’s voice repeat the same words he greets the portrait in Nordica with daily. “It made the hair on the back of my neck go up, boy I tell ya. It doesn’t anymore, but for a while it was freaky,” he says. “And that’s a true story, I’m not making this up for giggles, it really happened.” Woodcock says that he believes it must have been the ghost of Lillian Nordica herself. “I asked her not to do it again,” he laughs, “I told her, ‘I know you live here, but I work here, and we need to get along, so you can’t be doing this to me!’”
Chilling ghost stories aren’t the only way Woodcock helps to keep the spirit alive at UMF, his connection to the students are what make him a truly memorable part of the Farmington experience. Senior Business major Jonny Islieb says that he appreciates how Woodcock always makes a point to say hello when he see’s him. “It’s a small town, and so you do see a lot of familiar faces around campus, but it’s always nice when someone greets you with a smile,” says Islieb, “Woody is just a nice guy. Also, he has some great history to share about UMF.”
For Woodcock, it’s the students who make the job mean so much to him. “They’re fun. They all have different personalities. They are one hundred percent my favorite part of coming to work,” he says, adding, “make the record clear that I don’t sit around and chat so that the bosses know that I’m working. It’s just that if I see someone I don’t know, I go ahead and make a point to say, ‘Hi, how’s it going?’, and more times than not they say it back. It’s makes my days more enjoyable.”
Woodcock plans to stay at UMF until he retires, and prefers living right in the area that he grew up in. “One time I went to a Syracuse football game,” he says, “I enjoyed the game but there were too many people for me. I’m a homebody. I know these parts and I like being right where I am.”