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This Is Whitworth

Janet Helgeson retired recently, after 33 years as supervisor of grounds and landscape services. She oversaw a six-person crew that kept the grounds in topnotch condition, and she handled just about everything on campus having to do with the outdoors. Janet holds a bachelor's degree in landscape architecture and horticulture from Washington State University, and she also trained at the University of Copenhagen, in Denmark.

I actually first volunteered at Whitworth in the spring of 1981, after I was laid off from working for a landscape architect. I pruned the shrubs that used to surround Cowles Auditorium and the flagpole [as we cleaned up] for the inauguration of Whitworth President Robert Mounce (1981-87). He came up and introduced himself to me and said, "Are you giving them a haircut?" I told him that I was trying to get the area manicured for the inauguration of Whitworth's next president. At lunchtime I found out who I had been talking to.

Today the campus is more refined. When I started back in 1982, there were narrow sidewalks and no curbs. The Loop Road as it is now did not exist. Many of the parking areas were pull-offs onto the lawn or dirt or gravel areas. There was one automatic sprinkler system at the chapel, and the music-building landscaping was just being finished. The rest of the watering was done with hoses or galvanized manual systems. I had three student crews that worked in shifts to water the campus. All of the buildings had many metal trash cans. There have been so many changes, I could write a book!

I most enjoyed working in the greenhouse growing flowers, and working with the landscapes and plant materials and design. The most challenging part of my job was having so many projects and not enough resources to do everything that needed to be done. In retirement I think I'll most miss planning projects and the excitement of new construction.

Whitworth students play a very important role in supplementing the grounds-crew workforce. I'm proud that some of our students have pursued careers because of what they have learned working with us.

Read Janet's top tips on growing gorgeous lawns and flowers.