Loretta Zuk was crowned Super of the Year at last year’s Building Service Worker Awards
This story is part of “Ceiling Smashers,” a series in which successful women across industries tell Moneyish how they broke down professional barriers.
Columbia University superintendent Loretta Zuk learned she liked working with her hands as a foster kid growing up in Brooklyn: After her grandmother, mother and aunt lost their husbands, Zuk stepped up to “take care of whatever I could” — fixing floor tiles, hanging plants, building her own toys — around their Cobble Hill brownstone.
“That’s what really got me into it: just being able to freely try to fix something, and then it coming out great,” Zuk, 56, told Moneyish. “It was making people happy.”
Zuk, today a graduate housing superintendent on Riverside Drive, kicked off her handyperson career after she ran out of money in college and started cleaning apartments and businesses for cash. At the suggestion of her best friend, Rosemary Bellini, she entered a yearlong government-funded superintendency program for low-income women and minorities offering instruction in plumbing, electrical, carpentry and boilers.
In 1984, she snagged a handyperson job at Columbia. Since there was no superintendent position available once she gained the qualifications, she pursued other gigs around the city; finally, in 1993, she landed her long-coveted Columbia super job. “They were a good employer,” she said. “So I just was patient and got the building that I wanted to be a super at.”
Zuk, crowned Super of the Year at her union and Straus News’ Building Service Worker Awards last year, says she’s had a “very positive” career overall. While she has encountered some men unwilling to teach her and contractors who’d mistake her for the superintendent’s wife, she said, “once they realized that I had the background and I had the knowledge and the skills … I gained respect.”
Indeed, Zuk was “a sponge” for decades, devouring coursework at the training center for 32BJ, the service workers’ union to which she belongs. She takes pride in her ability to improvise on the job: “Sometimes, you just have to do a MacGyver on it,” she said.
Zuk is acutely aware of women’s paltry numbers in her industry: “The vast majority” of the roughly 3,200 New York residential supers within her union are men, a 32BJ spokesperson told Moneyish. “Hopefully more women will get into this field, because it’s growing; it’s vital,” Zuk said. “Women are more detailed and more patient and tactful and responsive.”
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