Leaf no stone unturned: A day in life of an Augustana groundskeeper

Najiah Osborne

In the Midwest, every season brings different weather. Fall, the season in which leaves begin to turn and temperatures drop, is the busiest for grounds supervisor Joshua Becker and his team. 

“This fall, in general, is a little busier because many of the trees are ahead of schedule,” Becker said. 

Becker handles all maintenance for the outdoor areas of Augustana’s campus including the grass, trees and land areas such as parking lots and sidewalks. On top of being a grounds supervisor, Becker oversees the motor pool department, which is where all of the fleet vehicles are housed. He has been working at Augustana College for three years and has been in the industry since 2007. 

His mother was a horticulture teacher at a school in a suburb of Chicago. Horticulture teachers educate students on the study of plants, trees and landscaping. He found his parents to be the inspiration of his work.

“[I] grew up doing a bunch of stuff with my father as well, doing a lot of outdoor things. It was a passion of mine to continue,” Becker said. 

Sophomore Kelly Moore is a tour guide who finds Augustana’s nature to be beautiful. Moore’s favorite outdoor spots are the lower Viking Plaza and the Slough. She said she believes these spots are important to Augie’s campus as they are a large part of the nature on campus. Moore is joyful when sitting in the Viking Plaza and when walking down the Slough. 

“I feel happiness simply because the nature of it is different compared to back home,” Moore said. “I’m from the suburbs of Chicago, and we don’t see leaves as vibrant as these.” 

Moore said she likes the more natural parts of campus as it brings out the innate beauty of nature. She feels that the landscapers do a good job at cleaning the outdoor spaces on campus. However, the sound and the consistency is disruptive to class time. 

“It’s nice that they’re cleaning the pathways so that people can walk,” Moore said. “Despite all of the noise and the disruption, they’re trying to keep campus clean and maintain the nature within it.” 

Overall, Becker’s job as a grounds supervisor has only granted him positive experiences. He said he believes that there are challenges you will face no matter where you work. 

“There’s a challenge no matter what industry you’re in. There’s always a challenge depending on the season with my job, but I do the very best to turn off work when I leave for the day,” Becker said. 

Despite Becker’s efforts to leave work at the end of the day, he is on call all of the time which forces him to be available after hours. Overall, he has met many amazing people through his work. He said that he finds the connections he’s made through work to be most meaningful. 

“I also do this work outside of [Augustana] for friends, family, just people I meet, but it also creates wonderful relationships in and out of work,” Becker said. 

Senior Claudia Vallejo said she finds campus to be the prettiest during the fall. Her favorite outdoor spot on campus is the garden near Hanson. This garden area was given to Augustana by the class of 1998. 

“I sit there a lot in between classes. It’s pretty quiet there,” Vallejo said. 

As Vallejo sits in the garden, she attempts to catch her breath and calm her mind. She said sitting in the garden sets the tone for her day. The flowers and nature are her favorite part of campus. She appreciates the landscapers for clearing the paths, however, sometimes she feels that the grass is not fully cut. 

“They don’t really cut some parts of the grass,” Vallejo said. “I cut through the grass to get to class sometimes.” 

However, Becker says there is far more to his job than simply cutting grass. He manages a team of people, and they control everything that they can outdoors. 

“We apply fertilizer; we take care of the weeds. We prune and remove trees,” Becker said. “We try to maintain this campus for the community; students, staff and outside community members as best as we can.” 

Like Moore, First-Year Kidist Tsige is not from Rock Island. Tsige also finds the nature at Augie to be beautiful. 

“I think it’s pretty nice and green,” Tsige said. “I like the general mood that it sets for the whole campus. I think it’s just beautiful that we’re completely surrounded by trees and water. It’s good for inner peace.” 

Tsige’s favorite spot on campus is the Slough. She likes quiet places where she can observe things around her. Tsige feels at peace when she walks down the Slough.

Overall, Tsige believes that the landscapers do a good job at cleaning the paths on campus. She always sees them mowing the lawn as she walks to class. 

Becker’s team is engaged and dedicated. He hopes to build a team that isn’t afraid to ask questions. They do whatever it takes to get the job done, and because of this, Becker has an open floor policy. 

“My staff and I meet every morning, and we discuss life in general and work,” Becker said. “I know I do not know everything, so we collaborate as a team and come up with the best way to do it.” 

In the end, Becker makes the final decision on what needs to be done. However, he does occasionally go to staff and students for wisdom. He said that he hopes they have ideas on how to improve the campus’s overall scenery. 

Everyday he and his team meet at seven in the morning, Monday through Friday, except in the winter. Each season is different for his team, however. After their meeting, they go out and take care of the trash. Since it’s fall, they’re handling the leaves. 

“We continue to change throughout the day no matter what mother nature throws at us,” Becker said. “It’s always different maintenance and my head is always turning. There’s always planning, planning for tomorrow, planning for next week, planning for the first snow storm or the next rainfall.”

First-year Ava Coussens picked Augustana because of its scenery. Coussens’ favorite outdoor spot is the Viking Plaza, because it’s the center of everything. 

“You run into a lot of people there,” Coussens said. “I like seeing people and hanging out with people.” 

Coussens finds what the landscapers do to be impressive. She said she can’t imagine what it’s like to be in their position and that she sees their efforts and appreciates them. 

The landscapers work until 3:30 p.m. during the fall months. However, during the winter the schedule changes to 4:00 p.m. until midnight. Becker always tries to think ahead to avoid any complications. 

He and his team travel throughout the campus to work. If a member of his team sees something that needs to be improved, they send Becker a photo. They also go about addressing work orders. 

“During all months of the year, my staff and I bounce ideas off each other,” Becker said. “It’s all a team collaboration.” 

Everything they do for each season is to prepare for what’s to come in the next. Becker is always one season ahead. 

“We’re prepping the turf for winter,” Becker said. “I don’t order salt when the snow comes, I order salt when we’re still in fall. We’ve already got the snow equipment tested and ready to go. We’re prepping the landscaping, and we are cutting plants back for germination and regeneration.”

Sophomore Jillian Hagmann loves the nature on campus. Fall is the season she finds most beautiful. Like Moore, Hagmann’s favorite outdoor spots are the Viking Plaza and Slough. 

“I just feel like it’s a really pretty space with all the trees surrounding it,” Hagmann said. 

Hagmann feels calm and relaxed when sitting in the Viking Plaza, or walking the Slough. She sometimes listens to music when hanging out in these spots. 

“It’s just very relaxing and peaceful,” Hagmann said. “This school is really beautiful.” 

When Becker hears compliments, he is sure to tell his staff. He never takes any credit because he isn’t doing it all by himself. It’s a full team effort.

“It’s a dedication that is not always seen or heard,” Becker said. “But when you have pride in your work, you do what it takes to get it done.” 

In general, Becker has a passion for improving the outdoor environment at Augustana. Becker and his team have successfully begun utilizing the Pollinator Pockets. He said that they have a 10-year plan. 

Pollinator Pockets are described to be a collection of native flowers, bundled together. Each pocket has about three to four different flower species and they bloom all throughout the early spring and fall. The Pollinator Pocket supports insects in providing refuge. Insects that are pollinators such as bees, moths and butterflies are protected by this initiative. 

“Some challenges come everyday to delay that,” Becker said. “But I hope to continue to do that on-campus.”

Sophomore Sophie Arceneaux enjoys the trees and finds that they add positivity in her life. However, Arceneaux said that she believes the landscapers do a little too much. Arceneaux has been reading articles that report how caterpillars are living on the leaves, and the landscapers are blowing them all away. 

“They could do a little bit less,” Arceneaux said. “It will help out ecosystems. They cut the grass like every single day which I feel is a little excessive, but in all, they do a good job.” 

Becker said that he hopes to make more equipment changes to use more fuel and cost efficient options. So far, he said that he and his team have begun to use a commercial electric mower. This is cutting down their fuel usage. 

“It was through the donations of the alumni and the community that we were able to do that,” Becker said. “We have plans to do [additional] if money allows in the future.” 

Becker is preparing his staff for bigger opportunities, and he said that he hopes they can step out and achieve other goals and take on higher positions. 

“If I’m doing my job as a manager I’m preparing my staff for bigger and better endeavors,” Becker said. 

Becker also takes pride in the Viking Plaza. He said it’s an amazing place to maintain. 

“I like big events where we kind of show off what we do when outside community members come in,” Becker said. 

Becker has set many goals for himself. He said that he hopes to take more time off to indulge in the things he enjoys most. Becker enjoys mountain biking, hiking, kayaking and cycling. He said that he also wants to spend more time with his kids. 

“Your goals always change with the seasons,” Becker said. “But just stick with your passions, and if you like what you do, you’re not going to [have to] work as hard.” 

Becker’s job as grounds supervisor has deepened his connection to nature, and while his motivations depend on the day, Becker takes pride in his work regardless of who sees and appreciates it. He said that he knows, one way or another, that his work will pay off in the long run. 

“Even during the times of short staffing, you push through, you change up your methods and your applications, and you do what you can to get it done,” Becker said. 

Becker encourages students to utilize all spaces of Augustana’s campus. He said he wants more people to understand why he and his team do the work that they do, and he wants Augie to be known.

“The grounds of Augustana are one of the first things you see,” Becker said. “You know, we take pride in the tours and take pride in our work because it’s the first thing you see.”