If Earth is a canvas, landscaping at Tabor College is Tim Unruh’s work of art.
Unruh, who serves as grounds supervisor, came to Tabor in August 2008 and has worked to transform the appearance of the campus as part of a larger calling.
“When I started, seeing it the way it (was), there was obviously room for improvement,” Unruh said. “A lot of the comments I heard, I guess, were from college kids coming (from) out of state: ‘Kansas is boring.’ Coming from California or from Colorado or wherever, things are a lot prettier.
“So I guess one of the goals for me was to beautify campus, bringing in plants, bushes, shrubs, whatever things that would work here.”
Tabor College President Jules Glanzer said beauty not only creates a good first impression on campus, it also lends itself to a better learning and working environment and sets the tone for the Tabor community.
“I receive many comments from alumni, parents, prospective students and people from the community about how beautiful the campus looks,” Glanzer said. “They come on campus and their first impression is that we care about what we do.
“Alumni tell me how it looks so different. Community people tell me they have altered their daily walk to be able to walk through campus to enjoy the flower gardens. Tim has been a driving force in making Tabor a beautiful place.”
Unruh has been drawn to caring for the Earth since childhood.
“I grew up gardening with my grandma primarily, and I’ve always felt that this is what my job is,” he said. “No matter where I go, I’m always somehow tied to tending to God’s Earth.”
Unruh worked at a greenhouse for 13 years prior to coming to Tabor and has a background in both horticulture and floriculture.
Upon arriving at Tabor, he began experimenting to find what plants grow well here.
“I’ve used campus for a canvas, kind of like what an arboretum is used for, to plant things to see if they work in this area,” he said. “I try to introduce new things all the time.”
Unruh said he looks for plants that are native to the Kansas prairie, including sunflowers, goldenrod, salvias and grasses, as well as hybrids of those varieties.
Unruh said sunflowers and rudbeckias, and yellow flowers in general, tend to be hardy and work well here, while cooler blue colors are usually harder to grow, with the exception of indigo and sweet peas.
“A lot of that’s experience and learning over time,” Unruh said.
Tabor employs two full-time groundskeepers, Unruh said, and also relies on student workers, including two full-time workers in the summer and three or four part-time workers during the school year.
“The last couple years, I’ve been really fortunate and blessed to have good student help,” he said.
Unruh said his crew spends 20 hours mowing each week, including maintaining the Bermuda grass on the athletic practice fields.
“Basically, that’s like keeping up a fairway on a golf course,” he said. “I mow those every other day.”
A majority of campus is serviced by automatic irrigation. Unruh said there are about 1,000 sprinkler heads on campus, something else that must be kept up and maintained.
In addition to his daily and weekly duties, Unruh said he attempts to make time for a list of other projects, including concrete projects and cleaning up around campus houses.
Even in the winter, Unruh said there is plenty to keep him busy, including trimming trees and rose bushes, and hardscaping projects such as building landscape beds or installing ground cover or rock. He also is tasked with snow removal and salt application, as necessary.
Unruh said he bases his projects on where he sees a need. He finds particular satisfaction from being resourceful.
“We’re always on a small budget, so I work with what I have,” he said. “A lot of times I’ve repurposed things to make areas look better.”
For example, Unruh turned an old air-conditioning pad south of the men’s quad into a picnic area.
“I put picnic tables out there and built a fence around it and then did a native landscaping around it,” he said, adding that he incorporated limestone as well.
“That’s exciting for me when I spend virtually no money, because the plants I divided from other places on campus or brought in from home or out in the wild.”
North of the student center, Unruh used flowers from a house Tabor purchased to beautify the space.
“I had the base of everything that I needed and just for a little bit of extra money added a couple things for some impact,” he said. “It feels good to me to try to make a big impact with a little bit of investment.”
When redoing the parking lot north of the Campus Recreation Center, Unruh added landscaping to improve the area.
One of Unruh’s large projects this summer is topdressing Tabor’s three practice fields with 120 tons of sand, spread in a 1⁄2-inch thick layer. The project is something he said he tries to do every three years.
“It just creates a nicer, safer playing surface,” Unruh said. “It makes it softer. It makes it more like the artificial turf. It puts a cushion on the field, fills in the little divots. The coaches really like that because it cuts down on ankle twists and impact injuries.”
Unruh has already designed a landscape plan for the area around the Shari Flaming Center for the Arts building, which is scheduled to be dedicated Dec. 9. Unruh will implement some of his landscape plan in the fall and the majority of it later in the spring.
“That was a fun project,” he said. “I would sit up in the MJR building on the top floor so I could see the area as I was drawing it out.”
Most of the plants will be on the north and east sides of the new building, he said, which will provide an opportunity to use shade-loving varieties.
“For Kansas, that gives a lot of nice options because your east and north sides are more protected from the wind and from the sun,” he said. “So I can use things there that normally I wouldn’t use in other places on campus.”
With the approaching completion of the new building, Unruh said he would also like to remove the berms around some of the other buildings in the area.
“It dates the buildings,” he said. “Once that would be all cleared away, that would be all landscaped differently around those buildings.”
No matter what project he’s working on, beautifying campus fits with Unruh’s mission and is part of a larger purpose.
“(God’s) called us to take care of the Earth, so what he has given us must be cultivated and tended to,” he said. “Tabor College is a place where people can come and learn how they can make an impact on the world.
“I feel that my gifts to serve God are to maintain the landscape and its facilities to provide a place where students can experience God while at Tabor College.”