On a sunny Monday morning in late October, Avon Seymore and Tom Jenswold drove
out to the little nursery by University Lake to dig up a magnolia tree.
It was a tree both men were familiar with. Seven, eight,
maybe nine years ago, Seymore and Jenswold had planted the
magnolia at the nursery from a three-gallon pot.
If they had bought a magnolia tree of similar size from a
nursery, they would have paid close to $500 for it even at
a wholesale price, Jenswold said.
Later that morning, the two men and other members of the
landscaping crew were busy replanting the tree, which towered
over all their heads, in the courtyard of Alderman, McIver
and Kenan residence halls.
This simple replanting may not seem like a big deal. But
Tom Sudderth, a supervisor in Grounds Services, can tell you
why it is.
The University is the only campus within the UNC system that
uses its own grounds crew to perform landscape installations,
including landscaping work around new and renovated buildings.
Sudderth said having a grounds crew capable of doing this
work not only saves the University time and money, but leads
to a better, long-lasting result.
Before landscape was moved in house, outside contractors
won jobs by submitting low bids. Too often, their work reflected
it, Sudderth said. Often, members of the grounds crew had to
go in after a few years and replace the landscaping the contractor
did because of poor site preparation and installation practices.
That is not a problem with the in-house landscaping crew
and it's because of the pride and professionalism of crew members
such as Seymore, Sudderth said.
And it is because of these qualities that supervisors and
coworkers recognize in Seymore that he received a 2004 C. Knox
"Avon is a quiet, somewhat shy
gentleman," who has risen
through the ranks of the Grounds Department by working extremely
hard, being very loyal to supervisors and leading his fellow
grounds men by exhibiting a positive attitude and an aggressive
work ethic," Sudderth said.
Campus as canvas
Seymore would never put it this way, but to
him and other members of the landscaping crew, the campus is like a canvas.
Sure, the architects get to put their names on the buildings,
but it is left to men like Seymore and Jenswold to make the
finishing touches -- always in bold strokes of green.
And it is the special care that they take in applying these
strokes that give the campus extra sparkle and luster.
Patricia Langelier, associate dean for operations at the
University's School of Government, cites as an example the
enclosed courtyard named in remembrance of Nanette Mengel,
a beloved public administration professor who had inspired
a generation of students.
In summer of 2003, a private contractor was hired to install
the garden landscape within 90 days so it could be completed
well in advance of a ceremony set for that November. The garden
was to feature garden beds, bluestone-capped seat walls, a
pool and waterfall.
But a day -and- a- half before the Nov. 6 ceremony, the courtyard
was still not finished. And that was when Seymore and his crew
were called, Langelier said.
"He and his crew flew into action, delivered and distributed
tons of topsoil, planted seven trees, including a 12-foot holly,
50 shrubs and dozens of groundcover plants, mulched all the
beds and cleaned up the paved areas so that the site was spotless
for the dedication ceremony," Langelier said.
That extraordinary effort, Langelier said, was the reason
she and 18 others at the School of Government felt privileged
to nominate Seymore for a Massey.
Langelier said it was a tribute to Seymore and his crew that
they could work so well together to accomplish what people
might consider impossible.
But for them, it was all in a day-and-a-half's
'What did I do?'
Seymore is 46 now and has been working at the
University close to half his life. The thought of leaving the University
to do anything else has never crossed his mind.
When you love what you do, you want to keep on doing it for
as long as you can, he said.
Seymore grew up in Moncure, a small town in Chatham County,
and then moved to Pittsboro after he got married. He has three
boys, ages 23, 19 and 14.
Seymore said he learned everything he knows about landscaping
from the people here, including his first supervisor, Walter
When he first started, most of the work fell into the category
of regular maintenance such as pruning shrubs and clearing
dead limbs from trees.
The landscaping crew, though, presents a greater challenge,
an opportunity to be creative and use what you know.
While an architect draws up a landscaping plan, every now
and then the crew will make a change when a tree is too close
to the building, or the architect recommended a plant unsuited
for the area.
"I love doing this type work, and so when you love it you
will put a little bit more effort in it," Seymore said. "Over
the years, it's nice to be able to stand back and see things
and I can tell myself, `I helped do that.' Just about every
building I go to I can see something that I did."
But it never occurred to him that so many people had so noticed
his work that they would nominate him for a Massey.
Seymore had read about the Massey award before, but he never
considered himself a worthy candidate to get one.
"You see the guys who win it and
you say to yourself, `I'm glad for them' but you never think
it would ever happen to you. It was a real big shock."
When Seymore was told Chancellor
James Moeser wanted him to give him a call, his first though
was, "`What did I do?'"
"When I went to the banquet, I
found out it was a big thing, and I was just proud to be
one of them to win it."
His middle son, who is also named Avon, now attends N.C.
Central University and works parttime at Carolina.
"He knew it before I did and he
was so proud. What made me proud was my wife and children
were there with me to accept this award."
Jenswold, whom Seymore calls "T.J.," said
Seymore is called upon to do the tough and highly visible
jobs because everyone who knows him knows he will do the
best job possible.
After a snowstorm, he is always the first to jump on the
After a hurricane, he is always the first to pick up a chainsaw
to clear away debris.
And he has the ability to prune
a shrub three feet high or a 25-foot crape myrtle with the
same great eye for symmetry.
Sharing the glory
Still, all the praise that has been heaped
his way makes Seymore a bit uncomfortable, not because he doesn't believe
he deserves it, but because he doesn't believe he deserves
it anymore that the friends he has worked with over the years.
"I was just lucky to win the Massey award. T.J. and other
guys on the crew deserved it more than I did," Seymore said. "It's
a whole lot bigger than me and I just can't take all the glory.
"I've been fortunate with all the guys I work with. I was
glad to be able to win this award but I couldn't have done
it without my crew." Seymore said.
Seymore said the important thing for him is to go back to
the job and keep doing it the same way he had before.
"If I let this go to my head or
something like that then I would slow up and that would put
more work on the rest of the crew. It's basically back to
normal. We just go out and do what we got to do, and I'm
glad I still got the strength to come up here and do it."
The only change, Seymore said,
is every once in a while they call him "Money."
But Kirk Pelland, director of Grounds
Services, said Seymore has proven to be a "money" employee
a long time ago, in the sense that he can be counted on to
do whatever is asked of him.
Pelland, in his nominating letter
for the Massey, described Seymore as "a quiet, but very talented 20-year employee" who
did not always get the credit he deserved for the productive
work he does behind the scenes.
"In the Grounds Department, employees often work outside
of their normal landscaping duties on special assignments," Pelland
said. "Mr. Seymore is an extremely talented equipment operator
and landscape maintenance worker who is always on the "A-team" when
it comes to special assignments."
Whether the job is snow removal or hurricane recovery, commencement
weekend or a special landscape project, you can expect to see
Seymore at the site and on task, Pelland said.
"Whether he is running a salt-spreader
or the hydraulic loader, a chainsaw or a pole pruner, his
coworkers all know that with Avon Seymore they will be getting
exceptional work, done with pride and done to the finish."
Editor's note: This story is the
fourth in a series featuring 2004 winners of the C. Knox
Massey Distinguished Service Award. The late C. Knox Massey
of Durham created the awards in 1980 to recognize "unusual,
meritorious or superior contributions" by
University employees. The award is supported by the Massey-Weatherspoon
Fund created by three generations of Massey and Weatherspoon
families. Chancellor James Moeser selected the honorees from
nominations submitted by the campus. They each received an
award citation and $6,000 stipend.