As seniors prepare to leave Bethel, the grounds crew springs to action in order to ready campus for the big day.
By Hannah Toutge
Josh Gerth looks out over the CLC yard that separates Benson Great Hall from the West Lot. It’s been under construction all year as a result of the sinkhole last fall, and it’ll take quite a bit of work to get it looking like normal again. This is just one project that Gerth and the grounds crew will be tackling in order to prepare Bethel’s campus for spring graduation in May.
Gerth began working on the grounds crew in 2005, and moved up to manage the team in 2009. Gerth and four full-time staff, along with any student workers employed throughout the year, oversee all of Bethel’s landscaped areas, grass, plants, trees, pavement areas and retaining walls.
“It’s a big campus, so we share the responsibility,” said Gerth.
During the school year, the grounds crew ensures that Bethel’s campus looks picture-perfect. Their work becomes increasingly important as the university nears spring graduation, when hundreds of pictures will capture the special day. Family and friends will flock to Bethel to celebrate their graduates, and some will be visiting campus for the first time.
“It’s important to leave a good first impression on people who don’t spend a lot of time here. [Graduation is] an opportunity to highlight our campus,” Gerth said.
The area in front of Benson that was damaged by the sinkhole last fall is an area of major concern for the crew this spring. “There’s a lot of work we have to do yet to try to get that cleared up for graduation,” Gerth said. “We have to finish sodding that entire area.”
The large task doesn’t seem to be very daunting to Gerth, who says turf management is one of his favorite parts about his job.
Gerth received his Master’s degree from Bethel Seminary, but felt called to outdoor grounds work.
“I grew up doing maintenance work,” he said. “There’s a ministry aspect to the work that we do that goes beyond the fact that I’m doing it at Bethel. And there’s something cool about working together with people and seeing how relationships develop and grow in that work setting.”
Marion Larson, Associate Professor of English, began teaching at Bethel in 1986. She recalls the history of the land that Bethel now sits on, and the work that went in to clearing the land for preparation for the buildings to be constructed.
“Before the college and seminary first bought this property, it had been owned by the Burlington Northern Railroad, and they had used the land as a place to dump stuff they didn’t want. So they had to do a lot of clearing of the land,” Larson said. “There were a lot of areas that you would want to be forested but weren’t. So it’s my understanding that a person who was a long-term biology professor planted a lot of the trees you see on campus here today. That would’ve been about 40 years ago.”
Larson remarked on how she feels towards the current appearance of Bethel’s campus, emphasizing the peaceful atmosphere that features such as Lake Valentine and the walking paths contribute to.
“[Bethel] feels set apart from things, kind of park-like, or like you’re at a retreat center,” she said.
“One thing I like about spring is that everybody knows that you’re nearing the end of a school year, which feels good to everyone, including faculty. Even if I’m working on a big project and I know I have a lot to do over the summer, I know that the pace of my life is going to be different.”
Senior Bryce Holm is finishing his degree in biology, and will graduate from Bethel in May. He remembers how the school’s beautiful campus was one of the reasons he chose to attend Bethel.
“I came in the fall for a regular visit, right at the peak time for the color change of the leaves. I thought Bethel was the prettiest campus,” Holm said.
Holm shares Larson’s hopeful attitude towards spring on campus. Holm remarks on how graduation can cause some anxiety because of the uncertainty of the future, but the fresh season embraces change and adds an air of excitement.
“The way the grounds appear, with the flowers and bright green grass coming to life, it makes it brighter. Kind of communicates a sense of hope, like there are still a lot of good times ahead,” Holm said.