Somewhere in the middle of the rain storm last week. I got to thinking that maybe spring isn’t far away. The thought of people unbundling, ice melting and robins returning made me almost giddy.

But I know when spring officially begins its entrance: Steve Trost starts roto-tilling his campus flower beds. Trost is my harbinger of spring and has been for 18 years, ever since I saw him on his hands and knees planting geraniums. Put it this way: His face wasn’t the first part of Trost I saw.

He came to St. Thomas in 1980 and, as greenhouse manager, he’s responsible for planting and maintaining campus flower beds, working with Biology Department projects and maintaining 500 plant species in the greenhouse collection – from orchids to cacti.

For almost 30 years, he’s been planting, watering, weeding and pruning 15,000 to 20,000 flowering plants a year. His gardens usually include 15 different varieties annually, and he’s planted every thing from ageratums to zinnias.

Last spring I stood, unnoticed, behind Trost and quietly watched for 10 minutes as he worked on the flower bed that dissects the quad. He would dig a hole, center the geranium, add water, press down to root and fill in with soil. Then, he’d give the plant a final, reassuring pat around its stem.

I was watching a man who loved his work enough to step back and admire the result. Trost reminded me of my father, who loved to garden; he used a string to plant his carrots, beets, radishes and lettuce in a straight line. About every half hour or so, he’d pause to light a Pall Mall and look over his work.

The irony for Trost is that this man who loves flowers, and watching them grow, can’t see them as well he once did. A degenerative eye disease, retinitis pigmentosa, is robbing his sight of color and clarity; he is legally blind and no longer driving.

But Trost, whose daughter Jennifer graduated from St. Thomas in 2000, can still see well enough to more than do his job and has no plans to retire. He says he gets help from his wife, Nancy, every Sunday in the summer to “deadhead” his plants (pick out the dead flowers). He also credits Marisa Kelly, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, and Terry Langan, associate dean, for providing a talking computer and the Physical Plant staff with giving “any help he needs.”

From the greenhouse to the garage to The Grill, the staff at St. Thomas appear to genuinely care about what they do and how they do it. They’ve unlocked my office door, found a missing payroll check and made a sandwich to go a minute before closing time.

The man who tends the UST gardens belongs at the head of the line of those who care. I’m looking forward to seeing him on his hands and knees, trowel in hand.
I’ll know summer is just around the corner.
Steve Trost

Steve Trost

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12 Responses

  1. mayoliova

    I don’t know If I said it already but … excellent site, keep up the good work. I read a lot of blogs on a daily basis and for the most part, people lack substance but, I just wanted to make a quick comment to say I’m glad I found your blog. Thanks. A definite great read..

  2. Gardener Bob

    Great blog post! I love learning about this online as gardening and landscaping are not only hobbies of mine but I actually do a little bit of work like that during the summer months as a second job. I appreciate your content in your blog and wish that you would keep up the good work.

  3. Pat Quale

    While I agree that Steve Trost does a beautiful job with the plants going down the quad, I have to give equal kudos to the Physical Plant Grounds Crew, lead by Bob Reed. The grounds crew not only plants numerous flowers around both the St. Paul and Minneapolis campus, but they maintain all of the flowers, grass, trees, shrubs, sidewalks, etc. A never ending task. Thanks everyone who makes our campus so very beautiful.

  4. Marybeth (Brunner) Nelson, Willmar

    What a beautiful story, Professor Nimmer ! While your stories on The Scroll must surely touch many, I found it ironic to learn that the gardens that stood out at my first campus visit with my daughter in 2004 were actually tended by a former neighbor that grew up one block east of our childhood home. I proceeded to forward the story to my three siblings asking if this was OUR Steve Trost to learn that yes, it was and that he had married another neighbor (Nancy) that lived one block west of our home. Once again, thank you for the story. Your writing was vivid even BEFORE I got down to the photo with beautiful plants as a backdrop. Greetings to the Trost “kids” !

  5. Dirk Dantuma, Saint Paul

    Besides being a great camper, broomball player, and friend, Steve has great hair.

  6. Jim Hagen, Forest Lake

    During my time at St. Thomas (’90), I worked on landscaping crews attempting to do what Steve does daily. I was always proud of the campus grounds, the color, the neatness vs the U of M. Three years later I unknowingly became Steve’s brother-in-law. He might be even better in that role.

  7. Craig Bonine

    I feel the need to let everyone know of other unsung heroes like Bob Reed and staff from the Physical Plant’s Grounds Department, who not only “dead head” the plants every year but also plant and maintain everything on the Minneapolis campus as well as do many plantings on the St. Paul campus while maintaining the grounds.

  8. Stacy Janke

    Steve is SUCH a huge asset to the St. Thomas community, and it is nice to see that others also notice his passion and dedication to his work. He also has a great sense of humor!

  9. Becca Swiler, St. Paul

    Thank you, Dave, for this great story about Steve: someone I’ve long admired and appreciated. For many years now Steve has enthusiastically opened the greenhouse to dozens of young children (ages 1 to 5 years) from the UST Child Development Center, to encourage their love and understanding of nature. He patiently guides their busy hands and eager spirits to pot lovely geranium and begonia plants that the children then give to their mothers for Mother’s Day. When the kids see Steve working on the gardens around campus, he’s always ready to explain what he’s doing and why. Steve has even provided dozens of bedding plants and tons of valuable advice to the children and their teachers who plan, plant and tend the gardens around the CDC.
    Steve is a teacher, a technician and an artist, and someone we’re so happy to know.

  10. Matthew Berg '98, St. Paul

    What a great story about a great member of the UST community. I had the pleasure of working for Steve while a student a decade ago, working the beds in the greenhouse and in the Quad. Reading this brought back many great memories of spring plantings. I look forward to seeing Steve’s work everytime I return to campus!

  11. Brett, Burnsville

    One of the most beautiful and wonderful things about Steve’s gardening is that a piece of his creativity is everywhere around campus. I am a person that has great admiration for the beautiful flower beds that are kept every year.