In May, as he was wrapping up an eight-hour shift of tending to appliance and electrical needs across CU Denver’s campus, Mark Fernandez checked the plumbing on the third floor of the CU Denver Building. He noticed a problem in a room that housed dozens of College of Architecture and Planning student capstone projects.
Water was coming down like a shower from the ceiling because of a leak. He called his supervisor and they stayed until 2 a.m. the next morning moving the projects to safety. “If we hadn’t, who knows what would’ve happened to all of their work,” Fernandez said. “I only work at one speed, and that speed is, get it done.”
Fernandez’s official CU Denver job title is Pipe Mechanical Trade One, but his role can be more accurately described as a first responder for grounds repairs, whether it’s fixing a broken light, addressing a building leak, or adjusting the temperature in a classroom. He’s also a family man—he’s married and has two daughters, a son, and five grandchildren—who is deeply committed to being of service to others. And, with a background in professional boxing, it’s in his nature to protect the people and places around him.
Becoming Denver’s Promising Young Boxer
Raised in the north metro area, Fernandez says that he felt he had two options as a kid: run or fight. He couldn’t run very fast, so he learned to fight. In junior high, when kids were picking on him in the schoolyard, a classmate named Tony gave Fernandez his first unofficial boxing lesson. The two became best friends and would box together for the next 10 years. Fernandez was a scrappy boxer, but he had heart.
Fernandez attended Adams City High School and planned to box for the Marine Corps after graduation. When a boxing gym opened in his neighborhood, he changed his mind. “I was young and nosy and wanted to see the boxers,” he said. “I stayed there and watched the professionals train and I told them I wanted to be the champion of the world.”
The other boxers told him it would take a lot of work, and he accepted the challenge. Fernandez made a name for himself in the ring locally, nationally, and internationally as Colorado’s “King Cobra.” In 1985, at age 23, he competed for a world title in Melbourne, Australia at the International Boxing Federation (IBF) junior lightweight championship.
The match was 15 rounds for a prize of $40,000, he said. He ended up losing to an opponent 10 years his senior, but he still ranked at the top of his division globally. He fought professionally for 20 more years, but began to focus on other things. “After I lost the world title, I knew I had to take care of my family,” Fernandez said. “God wants me to be champion for him and not the world.”
Discovering a Passion for Students and Service
Fernandez took a job as a merchandiser at a local Coca-Cola bottling center and then as an electrician at Regis University, where he worked for 14 years. There, he formed close bonds with students and found joy in watching them grow from first-year students to seniors. Some of them still call him to check in and catch up.
Fernandez’s favorite spot on campus is a breakroom on the second floor of the Business School, which overlooks 15th and Lawrence streets. “When I’m taking a break and eating by the window, I get a lot of people waving to me,” he said. “Just by saying, ‘Hi,’ you can make someone’s day.”
In July 2016, ready for a change, he attended a job fair at CU Anschutz and applied for a CU Denver position. Since then, Fernandez has been coming to campus Monday through Friday, even during the pandemic when the university moved to remote operations.
Fernandez’s responsibilities change daily based on work orders—and some necessitate more attention than others. He’s always willing to step in and do a bit extra to help a fellow Lynx. “I always seem to be at the right place at the right time,” Fernandez said. “If everyone walks away, who is going to help?”