Flower bed Caretaker is our True Harbinger of Spring

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