by Noah Tang
The Grounds department at Cedarville University works tirelessly to maintain the landscapes on campus. It employs four full-time staff and a varying number of student workers throughout the year. Each full-time staff member leads a specialized work crew: Paul Ware oversees beautification, Steve Prether is in charge of fertilizing lawns, Evan Brown oversees hard landscape, and Jeff Volbert manages weed trimming.
I have had the opportunity to work in Grounds for the past two summers on two different crews. I spent most of the last summer on the weed-trimming crew. This summer, I helped in the beautification crew and got to work with Paul Ware, who has served as the landscape planner and worked at Cedarville for 45 years. He was also recently given the Distinguished Service Award, and he spoke in chapel during Homecoming Weekend.
Ware taught me how to kill weeds by spraying a mild herbicide mixture onto them. As one might expect, safety training and personal protective equipment (PPE) are necessities when working with pesticides–even mild ones. Any student who is selected to spray herbicides must read a general instruction book and the instruction manuals for any herbicide being used. In addition, the user must wear at least a long-sleeved shirt and gloves, depending on which pesticides are being applied.
As fall passes and winter approaches, the Grounds department undertakes several projects specific to this time of year. Prether shares the fall agenda: hooking up plows, making sure they work and fixing those that don’t, getting salt boxes ready, and teaching people how to use them. Ware lists additional fall jobs like planting trees, designating new memorial trees, and raking leaves.
Planting trees is both a science and an art. Ware shares some details: “The micro-environment determines how you plan the tree, not your preferences or even aesthetics. I think this is important because we’re planting eighty-three trees this fall.”
Ware also lists general beautification jobs that are done throughout the year: planting flowers, watering flowers and new trees, taking inventory of trees, pruning woody plants, mulching beds and tree circles, removing weeds and tree sprouts, spraying weeds with herbicide, picking up trash and sticks, and changing bags in trash cans.
Jeff Volbert is another full-time supervisor. He started working at Grounds this past summer, managing the weed-trimming team. They weed-eat, edge, blow leaves, mulch, tree-trim, and prune. Volbert and his team have also helped prepare the Cedarville campus for homecoming, one of the jobs they take on is building the dock every year for the canoe races.
“We’ve helped other areas of Grounds with their departments,” Volbert said. “For instance, we helped Evan Brown put down sod, and part of my crew helped Paul with planting the mums. The other half was helping water flowers, plants, and trees. We have wonderful students here. This would not be possible to keep up without students’ help.”
According to Ware, the difficulty level of working in Grounds depends on what type of job one is assigned to, as well as one’s personality and attitude. Weed-eating is quite arduous, and mowing lawns is physically demanding too. Beautification might be less intense, but it is just as valuable as the other roles. The various crews often work together to accomplish their tasks, as I can personally attest.
Most students also find working in the Grounds department to be a positive experience. Jacob Davis, a freshman in the Biblical Studies program, describes his job as “Making things look nice.”
“You don’t need a lot of skill to start,” Davis said, having just started with the Grounds department this past summer. “You gain knowledge and life experience – how to work hard, interact with people, use lawn equipment as you get trained.”
Gage Prether, Steve’s oldest son, also works with the Grounds department.
“I like this job because it’s always outside, and weed-eating is one of my favorite things,” Gage Prether said. “It’s also a great work environment, perhaps one of the better ones.”
This fall, Grounds has had better staffing than last year. I still work part-time for it, changing trash bags around campus four nights a week. But the department can always use more help. As winter gets closer, Steve Prether has this on his mind: “We’re always looking for some good people who enjoy working in the snow or just working outside in general.”
Noah Tang is a graduate student majoring in Biblical Leadership, and a writer for Cedars. He likes to spend time with friends, ride his bike, and watch movies.