‘I don’t feel worthy of it’: Danny Cruz named as one of 125 Faces of DePaul


Erin Henze

Danny Cruz, head custodian of the Schmitt Academic Center (SAC), said he is grateful for everything DePaul has given him from paying for his wife and children to earn their degrees for free to keeping his job during the pandemic.

For many new students, walking into the Schmitt Academic Center (SAC) can give them a flashback of walking into middle school on the first day of sixth grade. 

The halls all look relatively the same. Getting to the right floor of the three buildings can be daunting with the mix of escalators, random staircases and elevators being everywhere, not to mention the challenge of making sure the student is in the appropriate building, whether it be O’Connell, Levan or the SAC. 

The sound of rattling keys followed by the sight of a man in a blue DePaul jumpsuit with a beaming smile is like a beacon of light for these students. Not only because this is an opportunity for them to ask where they are going, but because this man will ask them first if they are lost. 

The first time DePaul alum Sameer Khan met Danny Cruz, head custodian of the SAC, Khan said he was lost. It was the first month of Khan starting as an IT support student worker and he was trying to find a classroom in the SAC. Cruz approached him to see if he needed directions, mainly because of the concerned look Khan gave as he was wandering the halls. Instead of explaining the directions to Khan, Cruz walked Khan to the room while taking the time to ask Khan questions about himself.

“[Cruz] is one of those staff members who doesn’t brush [people] off,” Khan said. “I have met many staff members who tend to brush off people and treat their job as homework. He actually goes out of the way to help out students and goes above and beyond.”

Cruz reaches into the dirt of the flowers to see if it is damp. Cruz said there are small jobs within his job that make his work incredibly important to making the university what it is. (Erin Henze)

Alumni like Khan, current students, faculty and staff members think highly of Cruz. He was recently named as one of the 125 Faces of DePaul. In honor of the 125th anniversary of DePaul University, students, alumni, faculty and staff nominated members of the DePaul community to be recognized as the people that best represent DePaul’s values. 

“Cruz definitely deserves this award,” Khan said. “He shows that DePaul can be an open and inviting educational community. By welcoming the students and going out of the way to ask how they are doing throughout the day he makes DePaul [an] inclusive environment for all of the students.”

Rich Wiltse, Director of Facility Operations, said Cruz “absolutely” deserves this recognition. 

“Danny is a faith-driven individual who walks his talk, works hard and uplifts those around him,” Wiltse said. “Danny loves being a member of this community and that love shines through every day.”

Outside of working at the university, Cruz said he spends time with his wife and two children and avidly works at Chicago Dream Center Manna for Life, a food pantry located at 2704 W. North Ave. Cruz said he sets aside every Saturday morning from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. to help out at the pantry. Cruz said it is important to him to be living out the Vincentian mission at work and also in his daily life.

While plenty of people in DePaul’s community, like Wiltse and Khan, think Cruz is a great person to be one of the faces of DePaul, Cruz said he doesn’t feel the same. 

“Being one of the 125 Faces — I don’t feel worthy of it,” Cruz said. “There’s so many people contributing at a higher level, right? This is my job. This is what I do. This is what I chose to do. And I know that [what] comes with it, is to take care of the kids. . . My job is to serve people with a smile.”

Cruz said he is grateful people see him as someone who should be recognized as one of the faces of DePaul. He is also thankful for the people who inspire him to be a better person and a better custodian. Cruz said Bob Janis, vice president of Facility Operations, is one of those inspiring people. But, Cruz says he is most grateful for the students and the opportunities DePaul has given him. 

“My favorite part is this,” Cruz said while gesturing to the students laying around on the quad ,. “This is the life of the university. Without you guys, there is no life. But once you guys come on campus, you make things happen.”

Danny Cruz, head custodian of the Schmitt Academic Center (SAC), points to a stamp of his face from 20 years ago. Cruz said this student-made mural of Saint Vincent de Paul was made out of stamps faces of people in the DePaul community. (Erin Henze)

In regards to the opportunities DePaul gave him, Cruz spoke highly about how the university was willing to pay for his wife and students to earn their degrees for free here, nonetheless how the university treated him and the rest of the janitorial staff during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

During the pandemic, most universities were cutting their janitorial staff, Cruz said.

“The whole Kenmore street,” Cruz said with a pause and a saddened look in his eyes. “Not one stinking car. There was nobody here on campus, yet DePaul kept us.”

Cruz has worked for DePaul for the past 28 years and he said he plans to continue working at the university until he retires. 

Until he retires, Khan said Cruz should never stop being that beaming light for people who need it.

“I never want him to stop being passionate about helping out students,” Khan said.

Wiltse said Cruz has always been reassuring and motivating, even when Wiltse was a freshman at DePaul. Wiltse said he hopes Cruz’s ability to lift the spirits of those around him never changes.

“Danny has undoubtedly brought a smile or a bit of reassurance to many hundreds of students over the years,” Wiltse said. “Danny serves as an excellent reminder and example of the fact that we all have the power to uplift those around us. While nobody can help everyone, we can all help brighten the day for someone.”