Most Willamette people understand what a treasure our campus is — with the Mill Stream, the Star Trees, the gardens — but the beauty isn’t accidental. Jim Andersen heads a grounds crew whose exemplary work often goes unnoticed.
What’s something that might surprise people about the grounds operation?
That it’s different every day. People might think that we get here and we mow and we blow and we rake, but it’s not like that. Last week I got a call that there was a skunk down in the College of Law, so I thought, “Ok, I’m off to pick up a skunk. How do I do that?” We put a little ladder out there for the skunk and eventually it left.
You have to keep it interesting, actually, or else you’ll burn out. One way we do that is by splitting up the campus into different sections so that each member of the team can be in charge of one. That creates pride of ownership. I try not to put too much of a heavy hand on it as the manager, either; if the guys want to try something, I say let’s do it. Alfonzo Guzman and the hot-pepper gardens come to mind.
What are your favorite spots on campus?
The Martha Springer Botanical Garden comes to mind, but I also like the entryway into Ford Hall. When Ford was built, there were two large transformers that really stuck out, so I thought about how to disguise them. We did a little planting, added some perennials, and sure enough it looks outstanding. That really is one of my favorite places now.
There was a spot out by Matthews Hall that was all overgrown, so we redid it recently, too. Now there’s an edible landscape there facing toward the west, and facing south there are some plants for hummingbirds. Having the license to do these things is a lot of fun. It’s always good to try something — it’s not like we’re ripping up the Quad.
That would ruffle some feathers.
Yeah, so there are certain limitations. But that creativity can have a lot of benefits.
How about collaboration? Clearly you partner with other groups and offices.
Absolutely. Much of it started with professor Joe Bowersox when he helped with the move to organics and the elimination of pesticides. We’ve stayed connected with the Greening the Campus Committee and Zena Forest, and I think the collaboration has given us a lot of credibility. We’ve given campus ecology tours to professor Karen Arabas’s classes, and our intern is also working with professors. [Vice President of Financial Affairs and Treasurer] Arnie Yasinski is chair of the Greening the Campus Committee, so we have a lot of contact with him and other administrators.
As much as anything, it’s great to work at a place where we have great young minds pushing us to always think about better ways to do things.
What’s your favorite time of the year?
Fall. I like seeing the seasons changing. I don’t enjoy picking up the leaves, but I get super excited that they are going to end up in compost and get reused. People can use them to make their gardens really fantastic.
We put them behind Sparks and then, later, deliver them to folks around town. It used to be that we had to pay to get rid of something that people need. It’s saved us money in the long run, and it’s great PR for WU.
This question will make sense to recent alumni and current students: Who would win a mower race?
[Laughs] Alfonso Guzman would certainly win. I think I’d come in last. As a matter of fact, a long time ago, you actually could race those mowers — they were the ones with the little stands you ride on in the back — and every now and then I’d see Kendall Smith or Alfonzo holding on for dear life and flying around on them. I loved to see that because it meant that they were enjoying their jobs.
Is there a spot on campus that just gives you fits?
Oh yeah, I’ve got a lot of them. One of the biggest ones is over at TIUA in the courtyard between the first and second buildings. It gets no sun and has poor drainage; it’s always wet.
There’s one up on the north side of Waller Hall, too. We recently took down a tree there that was in steady decline, and that’ll help. It had little tissue left — the trunk, as you got higher, was hollow. Drainage was the killer there. That was a big-leaf maple that was getting too much water and got a type of root rot. The fact that it was right next to a sidewalk made it a hazard tree.
There was another maple out by the rose garden that we removed, too. It was also leaning over a sidewalk, but it was a double problem because it was shading the roses. It was a good idea when it was planted, but over 20 or 30 years it made so much shade that the bushes were making fewer flowers. Now that it’s gone I’m sure you’ll see plenty more roses next year.
That was one of those times when you look back and say, “That was easy. How come I never noticed that before?”
“It’s great to work at a place where we have great young minds pushing us to always think about better ways to do things.”