‘It Just Takes One Person to Change the World’

Ask almost anyone in south Florida about the year 1972 and they likely will talk about the Miami Dolphins, which that year became the first, and still only, NFL team to go undefeated. But two other seemingly unrelated events also took place that year that would eventually go on to have an impact on thousands of lives.

It was the year Florida International University opened on the former Tamiami Airport grounds, and also the year south Florida native Charlie Blackwell decided to join the U.S. Army. After seven years serving his country at various stops around the world, Sgt. Blackwell decided he wanted to return home and found a position on the staff of FIU. Over the years, he became as much of an institution as FIU itself.

“When I started I knew the name of everyone on campus,” said Blackwell who began his career at FIU as a groundskeeper and then transferred to Facilities Management, where he has been a refrigeration mechanic ever since.

Now, as he approaches retirement amid honors bestowed by the university almost 35 years of service, Blackwell says he has no regrets. In fact, he says that, while so much has changed over the years, one bedrock institution has not – AFSCME.

“I joined as soon as I could after being hired,” said Blackwell. “From all the programs they have to benefit members with their finances to just being there to for you on the job, I’ve been happy here at work because I know AFSCME always has my back.”

And it was through AFSCME that Blackwell met his wife, Jennifer, when she worked at FIU and was vice president of Local 3346. Together they raised six kids, now spoil five grandkids and have touched the lives of thousands of students.

“I got to know a lot of students over the years and I remind them that it just takes one person to change the world, and that nobody can achieve their dreams better than they can, so they should keep working hard and never give up,” he said. “And if just one out of 10 kids I talk to listen to what I’ve said, then I’ve had a good day and a good career.”

Now, with the university growing bigger and faster than in his wildest dreams, with campuses across the region and around the world, Blackwell is ready to step into retirement. But he is not ready to slow down. He is already planning on joining AFSCME Retirees and taking Jennifer on a nice long trip to visit England.

But FIU is not ready to let him go just yet! The university has already staged multiple events to recognize his distinguished career, with a retirement party full of cake and gifts still to come. One gift Blackwell will happily not accept is the traditional golden watch because “I won’t be worrying about the time once I’m retired!”

“It’s been a hell of a ride and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it,” said Blackwell. “So I know I’ll walk out of here with a smile on my face.”