First-Year Student Blog Series: The Duke Chapel

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Krista Rose Niemeier, Class of 2017
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In this week’s segment of my blog series describing “The ‘What’s,’ ‘Who’s,’ and ‘Where’s’ that Make Duke So Special”, I will introduce you to a campus celebrity who ironically happens to be one of Duke’s best-kept secrets. His name is Oscar Dantzler, his title is Chapel Housekeeper, and his wisdom is absolutely remarkable.

For anyone visiting or exploring Duke for the first time, I would certainly recommend that the first place he or she should visit is the Duke Chapel. It is undoubtedly a campus landmark and is full of history and character. On the other hand, I would recommend that the first person he or she should meet is Oscar, because he is someone who can really bring that history and character to life.

I first met Oscar in a serendipitous way during my first semester. One early morning, I entered the Chapel while it was vacant. I was in search of a quiet place to think and reflect on my own before starting another busy day. Before I knew it, a kind man wearing glasses, a baseball cap, and blue collared shirt approached me to ask how I was.

During my first encounter with this man, I learned that his name is Oscar Dantzler, and he prefers that everyone call him Oscar. Oscar quickly establishes a first-name basis with everyone he meets. He is the kind of person who you can be sure has interest in getting to know you from the very second you come across him.

In addition, I learned two more basic things about Oscar…

1. Oscar works diligently from within the Chapel.
Oscar’s job is to work daily from 5am onward cleaning the Chapel. As he likes to describe it in the words of his mother, “if you can't keep the House of God clean, you can't keep your own.”
2. The Chapel’s beauty and serenity works similarly from within him.
Having worked at the Chapel for quite some time, Oscar has truly gotten to know it inside and out. His positivity and wisdom are representative of the Chapel’s ambience and his personality is representative of its beauty.

The Chapel is one of the most beautiful symbols of Duke as well as one of the most visible chapels among American research universities. It was constructed and completed in 1932 and, since then, has served the Duke community in more ways than one. According to the Chapel’s mission, “It serves students by convening and contributing to a dynamic and diverse culture of religious life on campus—a culture that models respectful and enriching engagement in the context of profound difference.” The Duke Chapel is certainly unique, and so is everyone who walks through its doors. Sunlight pours into it through seventy-seven stained-glass windows and fills it with warmth. In addition, people like Oscar embody its spirit and further its mission of “engaging all to look to the future with faith, gratitude, and hope.”

On another note, Oscar happens to be somewhat of a campus celebrity. On the first day that I met him, he introduced me to The Philosopher Kings, a documentary about college custodians like – and including – him. The film introduces its audience to several custodians from some of America’s most prestigious universities. According to IMDb, a major movie database, The Philosopher Kings teaches us that, “wisdom is found in the most unlikely places.”

After meeting Oscar, I wouldn’t simply call him the Chapel custodian. I would call him a friend. Without knowing who I was, Oscar was genuinely interested enough in how I was doing to approach me in the Chapel that morning. I am certainly glad he did.

In the next blog post of this series, I will introduce you to another campus landmark that I admire. Wallace Wade stadium is the home of Coach Cutcliffe’s excelling Blue Devil football team… as well as some of my fondest memories of Duke athletics thus far. 

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