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Cindy Fisher standing at a doorway to one of the refrigerator rooms in Nash Hall

Nash’s ‘Radar O’Reilly’: Longtime building manager keeps watch over research labs during campus shutdown

By Molly Rosbach, OSU News

Cindy Fisher, building manager at Nash Hall

Years at OSU: 39

City of residence: Corvallis

In Nash Hall, the Microbiology Department has 30 labs and auxiliary spaces spread over four stories. Decades’ worth of samples and specimens, some strains representing the only source for patented technology are housed in dozens of sub-80-degree freezers throughout the building. In some cases, researchers’ entire careers depend on those frozen cultures as well as OSU’s patented technology. If the freezer unexpectedly malfunctioned, all would be lost.

But have no fear: Cindy Fisher is here.

Fisher has been the building manager of Nash Hall for 39 years. In that time she’s also served as a lab tech, culturing bacteria for the Microbiology undergraduate teaching program; and as the culture collection curator, keeping track of freeze-dried samples that date back to the 1940s and are still sometimes requested today.

She can rattle off a list of past and current research projects conducted in Nash, from bacteria discovered deep in the ocean to natural organisms now being used in yogurt.

“My duty is to support these people in their primary job of doing their research,” Fisher said. “If we were a MASH unit, I’d be the Radar of the unit.”

Though Nash first opened in 1970, the infrastructure has been updated over the last 15 years, including the HVAC and sprinkler systems and seismic upgrade. But it’s had its share of mishaps.

Years ago, Fisher recalls, she came in during the summer and there was water cascading from the sixth floor all the way down to the basement. The main water line had burst on the top floor.

During the COVID-induced campus shutdown, when most researchers are staying home or only visiting their labs once a week, she wants to make sure nothing like that happens again.

So every day, she walks the halls, checking on all the sub-80-degree freezers to make sure they’re still freezing. She looks over each lab at least twice a week to see if anything is amiss.

Fisher also led the charge on collecting Microbiology’s contribution to the campus-wide Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) donation to local health care workers. Before they vacated campus last month, researchers left stashes of N-95 masks, disposable gloves, scrubs and foot coverings in their offices, then contacted Fisher to tell her where to find them. She boxed up more than 1,000 items.

“That was quite a sight to see,” she said.

Fisher’s favorite part of her job is the people, so this shutdown has been difficult, especially since she’s retiring sometime in 2021.

“I do this not for the building itself, but for the people that are here now, and the memories of the amazing individuals who have walked these halls over the years,” she said. “I’d like to have it filled with people creating new knowledge and teaching our students once again.”

This story is a part of an OSU series called "Unsung Heroes," highlighting faculty, staff and students who are going above and beyond to assist with the pandemic response in their roles at OSU or in their communities from Corvallis to Bend to Newport and throughout the state. To read more stories like this, go here.