By People Staff
August 10, 1998 12:00 PM

Royal Zeno finally cut into his cake on July 21, a week after his 80th birthday. Accepting congratulations from well-wishers at his four-seat shoeshine stand at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport, Zeno had reason to celebrate: He’d be keeping his job. Until recently there had been some doubt about that. The Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC), identifying the shoeshine concession as a potential profit center and not simply as Zeno’s life’s work, had put it up for bid. A month ago, Zeno, who’d been working there for 36 years, learned the commission planned to award the contract to Leather Care lnc., which operates shops at nine U.S. airports. “No one should be given a lifetime contract for a very lucrative opportunity,” MAC executive director Jeff Hamiel told Today’s Matt Lauer.

But the public saw the bottom line differently. About 1,000 people signed a petition on Zeno’s behalf, and local politicians took up his cause. Seeing the light, the commission decided to allow Zeno to stay where he is. “I’d been given my walking papers,” Zeno says quietly. “Maybe this will give hope to other people. The little guy can win if people speak up for what’s right.”