By his own admission, Larry May is a man of few words.
When it comes to directing the Maryville College Physical Plant and the men and women who keep the college looking good and running smoothly, he prefers to let their results speak for themselves. So when the organization Keep Blount Beautiful recently honored Maryville College for its landscaping and beautification efforts, May and his six-person grounds crew — led by Alan Hale and comprised of Jamie Dockery, Tanner Adams, Dylan Copen, Adam Effler and Courtney Ogle — gave a humble nod of thanks, clocked in the next morning and got back to work.
“It’s what we focus on,” May said. “We know everybody has high expectations of the way Maryville College looks, so we try to focus on the little things, anything from a dead tree branch to a piece of siding that might be hanging off the edge of a building.”
Heads down, hands busy
Case in point: During the Baccalaureate service held in May, a powerful spring storm roared across campus, felling a giant tree near the corner of the Cooper Athletic Center.
“The grounds team, I didn’t even have to tell them anything,” May said. “They were already taking care of it before I mentioned it, and by the time I got there, they were already pulling up in a dump truck to start loading it up.”
Today, there’s no evidence the tree was ever there, the ground scarred by roots torn from the ground by top-heavy weight smoothed out and reseeded with grass. Around campus, crew members are a visible part of the College community throughout the year, and while they may not get the public recognition of their academic counterparts, the work they do certainly does.
At the Foothills Beautification Awards, held in late June, Maryville College joined the Elizabeth Jackson Hill Memorial Garden and the Barn Event Center of the Smokies as an organization dedicated to the picturesque prominence of Blount County. It’s an award the College has won four times, most recently in 2019 when Anderson and Fayerweather halls won Blount Beautification Awards, and this year, judges specifically praised the college’s entrances as being “so very beautiful, and should be recognized as such!”
“I have to give the credit to Alan and Jamie Dockery, who work together to keep the flowerbeds filled with seasonal color,” Mays said. “They’re always planting new flowers, trimming rose bushes and making sure those beds look nice. They’re just an outstanding crew that works tirelessly and takes a lot of pride in what they do.”
That pride doesn’t just benefit the College, according to Lori Barrett, a real estate specialist with the Maryville-based agency LeConte Realty.
“Maryville College endures as a selling point in the Blount County real estate market,” Barrett said. “The beautiful grounds and greenspaces of the college help drive the high demand to reside in the bordering neighborhoods, and the well-landscaped entrances serve to not only welcome students, but to also invite local residents to enjoy the lush campus and the College Woods themselves.”
The Maryville College Woods, a 140-acre tract of urban wilderness used by college students, faculty, staff and the community alike, is also part of the Physical Plant’s campus oversight, with crew members responsible for clearing trails of fallen limbs and trees and mowing the meadows and orchards. The tract, said LeConte real estate specialist Lane Shuler, makes the college even more appealing.
“The Maryville College Woods is a great jewel for our town,” he said. “Having miles of dense forest and walking trails right in the heart of town is something that is hard to find, even in other cities of our size!”
Every morning, the grounds crew begins its day with a visual inspection of the campus, looking for discarded trash, downed limbs and other natural debris that may impede foot, bike or vehicle traffic. The responsibilities that take up the rest of the day depend on the season. In the summer, keeping the nearly 100 acres of college grounds mowed is a demanding task, and to meet it, the team uses three primary mowers for the lawns and two specialized mowers for the college’s athletic fields.
Behind the Physical Plant itself, which sits on a hill above the softball fields on the northeast side of campus, there’s a veritable construction site of equipment, tools and vehicles used by the employees whose jobs demand flexibility: In August, they ride mowers, but a couple of months later, they’ll be mulching leaves.
“In the fall, you’ll hear blowers and mowers taking care of the leaves for a solid two months,” May said.
In the winter, they turn their attention to special projects, tree trimming and planning for the preparation of flowerbeds and the athletic fields. Come spring, watering, mowing, planting and maintenance work take up most of their schedules. Along the way, there are trees that occasionally need to be cut down or moved, and this time of year, Hale and May try to look at everything through the eyes of new students and the family members that will soon drop them off for the beginning of a new academic year.
“It starts with the grounds. They pay extra attention to making sure the trees look good, paying double attention to make sure there’s no trash, to ensuring everything’s in the right place,” May said. “I think their approach to it is, their name is attached to how things look, and they want everyone to be proud of it.”
Acknowledgements like the recently bestowed beautification award is something for which May is grateful, but he’s even more pleased by the fact that the work his team carries out is noticed beyond the lovingly cultivated entrances to the college.
“We’ve had a lot of folks moving to East Tennessee since the pandemic began, and one of the things that sets Maryville apart from other communities is Maryville College,” added Brandon Everhart, a Realtor with Realty Executives in Maryville. “Other communities can’t offer what we can with the historic campus at the heart of our community.”