As springtime comes to Westminster College, the dead branches, dried leaves and dreary remains of winter suddenly disappear and are replaced with full-grown peonies and fresh-cut hedges.
Meet the man behind the magic, Earl Widner. Widner, along with Dale Bianucci and Craig McLean are the groundskeepers for the college. They are based in the green-fenced maintenance shop tucked away from campus, across the street from the Health, Wellness and Athletic Center (HWAC).
This trio is assigned by Westminster grounds supervisor, Craig McLean, to maintain the building structures and keep the outdoors of the college looking pristine. However, trimming the trees, cleaning up dead leaves, planting fresh flowers and gathering trash across 27 acres of land is left to Widner alone.
For 10 years, Widner has been a staple at the college whizzing around in his notable red utility cart.
In preparation for spring, Widner starts at 7 a.m., picks up trash from Carleson Hall to Stock Hall, trims the hedges and gets his hands dirty in the flowerbeds. He said he only has until Mother’s Day to get all the planting done.
At 59 years old, Widner is a workhorse, outworking those who are more than half his age, according to his coworkers.
“He’s a big reason why the campus looks the way it does […] he’s going to be a hard person to replace when he wants to retire,” said Widner’s supervisor Kenton Gregory.
However, Widner has only just recently become a one-man-show. The utility department faced severe budget cuts in recent years and had to cut groundskeeping positions, according to Gregory. This means the groundskeeping team went from six men to one.
Widner spoke to The Forum to explain how he does all the work needed to make Westminster ready for spring. His answers have been lightly edited for clarity and conciseness.
Q: What are your duties?
A: Well, it starts out in the morning, and I go out and look the grounds over. I see if there’s any trash laying around, then I empty all the trash cans and I clean up the trash. You know, paper, beer cans and things like that, laying around, I go out and pick them up.
Then I go out and clean out [the flower] beds. Raking and hedging, and that’s all I do all day long. Just run the hedge trimmer and clean.
Q: How much land are you assigned to cover?
A: The whole campus, which is […] 27 acres. I cover one end to the other. I start at Carleson Hall and end up at Stock Hall. Then I turn around and start all over until everything is clean. Anything that winds up and dies, I try to replace it, [including] the sprinkler systems, too. But that’s a pain because they’re old.
Q: How do you prepare for spring at Westminster?
A: Our pots that we have in our hanging baskets, we take them in February to a nursery […]. And then right around Mother’s Day, give or take a few days, they bring them out to us, and we set them out on campus, on the steps of the buildings, off our light poles, things like that.
And we have a campus clean-up, where we have the campus community come out and plant flowers and paint hand railings, and just clean up the campus.
Q: Do you interact with any of the students?
A: Nah, not really. I pretty much stay to myself. You know, there will be one or two of them that pass by and say, “Hi, Earl.” But other than that, you know, I’m doing my thing and they’re doing theirs.
Q: What is the hardest part about what you do?
A: *Laughs* My least favorite duty is the recycling. I don’t like to do the recycling, it’s a pain in the backside […]. It’s just a mess. I like the trashcan because people put their trash in there. But with recycling, it just gets thrown in a closet. So you’ve got to go in there and put it in the bag. And sometimes there’s boxes in it and you’ve got to break down the boxes and sometimes there’s trash in it and you’ve got to take the trash out […] that’s my least favorite duty. I don’t like doing that. I’d rather empty trash all day long than do an hour’s worth of recycling.
Q: What is your favorite part about what you do?
A: My favorite thing is working in the flowerbeds. Weeding, cleaning, that’s relaxing to me. If I had my choice, I’d do that all day long. But, you know, there are other things that have to be done.
Q: If you had one thing to tell Westminster students, what would you say to them?
A: I love what I do. I love being outside and working in the sun. I’d rather work outside than inside.