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Message from the President: SNC’s Unsung Winter Heroes

Jan. 22, 2014

To our alumni friends and parents:

Every organization has its unsung heroes. The star quarterback doesn’t put up those gaudy stats if his offensive line fails to protect him. The senator may get the TV time, but it’s her diligent, underpaid legislative aides who keep the gears of government turning. The pastor holds forth in the pulpit, but the parish doesn’t function without its liturgical ministers and finance committee.

Certainly at St. Norbert College, as at any sizable campus, we have so many unsung heroes that I could spend the next 20 of these alumni letters writing about them and not get to everyone.

Yet as we hunker down for another Wisconsin winter, I want to single out, and publicly thank, a group of people who spend much of their time outside in that challenging environment.

For the last six weeks or so, SNC’s hardworking grounds team has been working more or less around the clock, at times in white-out conditions and near-historic wind chills, keeping campus accessible and safe for our students, employees and visitors.

Fact is, in winter, grounds manager Bob Erdahl and his staff (Jayme Rathe, Joe La Rock, John Girard, Bill Maccoux and Gary Van Dreel) don’t have much control over their own time. Their hours are essentially set by Mother Nature, and she’s had quite a sense of humor so far this winter. If we’re getting freezing rain at 3 a.m., followed by snow at 4, the grounds team must be out there salting, plowing, clearing and sanding so that the dangerous “permafrost” layer all Wisconsinites dread never gets a chance to take hold. It’s a thankless task, and no doubt when it’s -15 out there, the grounds folks would rather be back in bed like the rest of us. Instead they are out in the elements, doing their jobs.

And remember, this isn’t like shoveling your front walk. It might surprise you to know that SNC has an astonishing 10 miles of sidewalks and streets, not to mention 12 acres of parking lots, that we’re obligated to keep clear during winter’s worst.

When we’re in mid-storm or the conditions are particularly nasty, the grounds crew is routinely assisted by members of our maintenance and mechanical systems teams, as well as the housekeeping staff. I want to thank all of these dedicated employees for their commitment to campus safety, winter after winter.

Once the snow is a memory, you’ll find the grounds team mowing the lawns, tending to the athletic fields, clipping shrubbery and trimming trees, clearing the riverbank, planting our many flower beds, and generally doing all the things that prompt you to compliment me so often on the beauty of our campus. As always I’m happy to take the credit, but you should know who is really responsible.

And by the way, we’re not just talking about aesthetic niceties here. Many of you alums well remember the first time you stepped onto the SNC campus and, struck by how splendid and well cared for it was, thought to yourself, “Yes, I could spend four years here.” Well, prospective students still have that reaction, and a lovely green campus remains one of our biggest competitive advantages.

So the next time you’re here and you pass someone who is sweeping a snowy sidewalk or edging a flower bed in full bloom, tell them thanks. The pride these folks take in their work lifts us all.