Maintaining Berea’s beautiful campus takes teamwork,
planning and creativity
It is spring, and the Berea College campus is in bloom. The early spring crocuses and the rainbow of tulips will be followed by the butterfly-loving summer milkweed and the autumnal pansies and mums. To find who literally keeps Berea in bloom, look no further than the College
Grounds crew, a team of staff and students who maintain the campus all year round. Staff member Rose Adams has a special touch for nurturing flowers. College Square, Boone Tavern, the President’s House and the three campus entry signs are all brought to life with her horticulture skills.
Regarding her flower selections, “Rose is amazing,” said Eric Harshman, Grounds coordinator. She plans landscape beds taking into account bloom time, plant height and a varietal color palette.
Some of Adams’ blooms are not primarily for people’s enjoyment, but for some temporary Kentucky residents. Three certified monarch waystations are located near the President’s House, Howard Tower and the Child Development Lab. Inspired by First Lady Laurie Roelofs, the gardens provide both nursery plants (milkweed) and nectar plants for winged guests. (Read more on Laurie Roelefs’ butterfly way stations.)
The Grounds crew has a wide area of responsibility beyond landscape and flower beds. There are acres of grass and trees and athletic fields for a succession of sports. Tasks include campus-wide recycling, and leaf and snow removal. They must keep their equipment running in tip-top condition and erect tents on campus for special events. It is an ever-changing list of to-dos dictated by season and weather, and it requires coordination with numerous departments like athletics, facilities and administration.
Grounds Crew Staff Little Known Facts
Carl Carpenter is 93 years old and has helped maintain the campus for more than 60 years. The longest-serving Berea College staff member, he still periodically takes a turn on a mower.
Eric Harshman has a degree in golf turf management. Before joining the College staff, he maintained fields for professional baseball teams like the Cincinnati Reds.
Rose Adams moved to Kentucky to work with horses. She broke yearlings at Claiborne Farms for 10 years before changing careers to become a landscaper and arborist.
The best way to think of the work of the Grounds crew is that it is hospitality, making the campus a truly welcoming place for students, staff and visitors. During snowfalls, they arrive as early as 4 a.m. to prep for the day to ensure students can navigate to classes and the dining hall and that parking lots are safe for later-arriving employees. In wind storms, staff are on call to remove downed branches and trees. Spring is
a busy season, with numerous events requiring tents and special efforts to spruce up the campus for graduation. Caring for the campus takes dedication and hard work, exemplified every day by the unsung members of the Grounds crew.
“It is a lot of physical work in all weather conditions,” said Johnathan Wilson ’19, student director of Grounds.
The 20 Grounds crew labor students are assigned to a staff member and work alongside them with all the Grounds tasks, whether planting, weeding, mulching, shoveling snow or grinding stumps. For some, it is a welcome change from their academic work.
“The students come from a variety of majors,” Harshman said. “Grounds work is hands-on and a helpful ‘brain break’ from classes. The work they do here, like planting trees, is tangible and lasting.”
As seasoned members of the Grounds crew, students have the opportunity to create and fulfill some of their own landscape plans. While a gifted plant artist herself, Adams gets a thrill from working with them to create their own garden beds.
“I just love the students; I teach them, and they teach me,” Adams said. “Working with them is a real give-and-take.”
She lets them take charge of their design without criticism, and she makes a point to celebrate with them the small, beautiful surprises blooming throughout the season.
“That is when I remember this job is not about me and my accomplishments,” Adams said. “It is about them taking pride in something done well. They create some of the most beautiful beds of all.”
Her affection for the students is reciprocated—alumni send her Christmas cards and seek her out when they return to campus.
Wilson has experienced that kind of support on his Grounds projects. He heralds the staff for encouraging him to pursue his passions and interests and assisting him in accessing resources when necessary. A self-proclaimed sustainability nerd, he infuses native plant life into his landscape renovations, with an understanding that gardens are part of a larger ecosystem. Partly inspired by campus rain gardens and native plants behind Draper, his diverse plantings welcome a variety of native pollinators.
A senior, Wilson has worked with Grounds for four years and has learned a lot on the job.
“My labor position on the Grounds crew is an escape from academic work while still being academic,” he explained. “It furthers Berea’s investment in my education.”
In his case, it has been an investment in his career preparation as well; Wilson hopes to pursue work in sustainable landscaping when he graduates this spring.
The Grounds crew nurtures a lot of budding activity. Their main job is caring for the physical environment around campus, but they intentionally do it in a way that nurtures and encourages the students who are part of the crew to bloom.
Grounds Crew by the Numbers
- 7 full-time staff
- 20 labor students
- 125 acres of grass
- 7 miles of sidewalks to plow
- 3,000 + spring bulbs planted each year