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manual labor The silent staffs who keep the 'U' running
A photostory by Emma Nolan-Abrahamian
lassrooms have long been vacat-
ed for the evening.
It's still hours before the Uni-
versity wakes from its collective slum-
ber and once again fills the campus with
a continuous flow of students and pro-
But at this late hour, a relatively
unknown key cog in the operation of the
University emerges from the shadows.
Armed with leaf blowers, rakes,
brooms, cleaning fluids, chain saws and
driving a Green Machine, the Grounds
and Waste Management Department,
housing staff and custodians work
shifts that start anywhere between 9
p.m. and 7:30 a.m., cleaning the hard-
scape - which includes sidewalks and
plazas - removing leaves, and clean-
ing classrooms, lecture halls and dor-
As you wander through campus
after a late night of studying or party-
ing, or are on your way to an early class,
you might a glimpse of staff members
on break, see closets full of vacuum
cleaners and cleaning supplies and find
"careful wet floor/cuidado piso moja-
do" signs, all remnants of the previous
These three departments are respon-
sible for everything from forestry, inte-
grated pest management, irrigation,
recycling and trash removal to dormito-
ry cleanups and a salt-reduction initia-
tive, which take place at all hours of the
day. And despite the seemingly simple
nature of these tasks, the people who
complete them are far from ordinary.
"There is a lot of hidden exper-
tise," said John Lawter, the director
of Grounds and Waste Management.
"The people you see doing manual labor
around campus may have degrees rang-
ing from B.A.s to Ph.D.s."
Some work in the middle of the night
because they don't mind the ho-s. Some
work in the dorms because of the inter-
actions they have with students. Others
choose to work outdoors because they
love being outside.
Art Grissom, the head forester in the
grounds department, doing tree trim-
ming and maintenance 70 feet in the air
is a continuation of a childhood spent
on a farm, during which he grew to love
the outdoors. While he works with his
crew members, all of whom are certified
arbists, to keep campus trees healthy,
other employees prefer to have their feet
firmly on the ground, cleaning the Uni-
At 4 a.m., Sharon Bailey starts work,
usually on the first floor of Angell Hall.
A 15-year employee, she has worked in
Mason, Tisch and Haven Halls and has
students tell her that the building looks
"That just makes your day and boosts
us up," Bailey said.
As Bailey starts work, Fred Voss'
workday begins to wind down. The
twenty-year University employee loves
the leaves on campus and spends his
nights - from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. - driving
a sidewalk sweeper known as the Green
Machine through campus. Voss and his
Green Machine pick up leaves, cigarette
butts and small pieces of glass while
making a few interesting acquaintances
along the way.
"Working here at the University of
Michigan is pretty interesting," Voss
said. "You never know who you're going
In the two decades that he has
worked at the University, Voss has had
his fair share of unusual and unexpect-
ed encounters. These meetings include
bicyclists dressed as gorillas and a man
walking through the Diag wearing slip-
pers and a bathrobe. More than the con-
tact he has with many different people
and characters, he is proud of the role he
plays in making campus both clean and
safe and about the advances grounds has
made, especially their efforts "to be a
green as we can."
As the end of his shifts nears, Voss
drives away into the night, saying to him-
self "lions and tigers and bears oh my"
as he passes through the dark, deserted
campus -just one of many University
employees working behind the scenes.