Rhododendron Drive

Forty Seasons

by Ken Percy

On September 28, 1978, I started working for Stonehill as a custodian, first in Duffy and then in Boland Hall and O’Hara. Eight years later, I became a groundskeeper, a position I continue to hold today. My plan is to retire next year, on that same day in September—four decades later. As I round out my time at Stonehill, I’ve been reflecting on what it has meant to have spent nearly 40 of each season maintaining this beautiful campus.

In my early days, it was a pleasure to work for then-president Fr. Bartley MacPháidín, C.S.C. ’59, who had a vision of a walking campus and with Fr. Robert Kruse, C.S.C. ’55, who had an in-depth knowledge of the surrounding trees, shrubs and flowers. I remember Fr. Kruse telling me that as a seminarian at Stonehill, he would walk Rhododendron Drive during silent prayer and pick the dead flowers from the shrubs, so they would come back fuller the following year. To this day, I think of that “prayer and pruning” story every time the rhododendrons are in bloom.

As a novice groundskeeper, I also learned a lasting lesson from my first boss, Don Porter. He said to have a beautiful campus, all we needed to do was pick up trash, mow the grass, mulch the weeded beds and plant flowers. I still believe in this simple formula.

For Facilities, the arrival of spring means the beginning of Commencement prep. It is an event in which we take exceptional pride—from planting shrubs and trimming trees to assembling the platform and lining up the chairs. I’ve attended numerous graduations at other institutions, and I have often found myself examining the setup. Each time, I have concluded that no one does it quite like we do.

Summers were once quiet but are now much different. After graduation, a hectic schedule of academic and athletic camps, conferences, retreats and special events happens on campus. We work to keep the grounds looking sharp for our thousands of visitors. Several years ago, the renowned Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh offered a retreat here. The tranquility of this event inspired me to take a vacation day and participate in the retreat.

Fall is often regarded as one of the most beautiful times on campus. While surely this is true, leaf cleanup seems like a never-ending job. We collect mountains of leaves and then collect mountains more.

In the winter during a blizzard or storm, it’s not uncommon for the Facilities staff to work around the clock. After a long night of plowing, it is so peaceful to see the campus covered in a fresh blanket of snow as the sun rises. It is a sight few see, and I am grateful to be one of them.

Through almost 40 seasons, I’ve worked in every building on campus. I’ve helped professors and staff move into and out of offices. I’ve unlocked doors when students have lost keys. I’ve worked cookouts, concerts, Reunions and President’s Dinners. I’ve enjoyed seeing classes held on the quad on a beautiful day. I’ve mowed, planted, trimmed, raked, swept, packed, unpacked, emptied, filled, plowed and shoveled. Along the way, I’ve met some of the nicest people at the College and have become friends with many.

And as I work my last several seasons at Stonehill, my hope is still that the backdrop of a well-cared-for campus contributes to a more memorable experience for all who come here.

Groundskeeper Ken Percy recently received the Spirit of Holy Cross Award by the Congregation of Holy Cross, U.S. Province of Priests and Brothers in recognition of his service as a lay collaborator who has faithfully served the Holy Cross mission of making God known, loved and served in an educational setting.  

SHARE YOUR STORY.  Submit your 500-word essay about your Stonehill thoughts and memories to klawrence@stonehill.edu.