University Community | Profiles

Landscape coordinator and alumna Susan Calhoun retires after 35 years

When one takes a stroll through Ohio University’s Athens campus, the beautiful nature is undeniable. Part of that is thanks to the many grounds services workers, including Susan Calhoun, BS ’85.

For 35 years, Calhoun took care of OHIO’s magnificent trees and landscapes, including the iconic cherry trees, until her recent retirement as landscape coordinator. 

“Susan was an incredible asset to the Grounds Services Department and the University as a whole,” Steve Mack, director of facilities management, said. “Her knowledge and dedication to everything grounds related was incredible. She was always looking at opportunities to promote our beautiful campus and interact with students and staff. Her dedication and influence will be felt at Ohio University for generations to come.” 

Calhoun started in the grounds department in 1987, but also worked as a student employee previously in the plant biology department for the greenhouse and gardens under Dr. Richard Rypma. She graduated from OHIO with a degree in plant biology from the College of Arts and Sciences.

“Being on campus for so many years, studying and working in the area of plant and field biology allowed me to grow deep roots and acquire institutional knowledge,” Calhoun said.

Picking a favorite memory is hard, Calhoun said, but overall she enjoyed working in the campus environment with all the action and events to prepare for.

“I smile when I think about the multitudes of union staff and students that I supervised over the course of 35 years,” Calhoun said. “So many personalities and experiences to recall. I especially enjoyed working with emeriti volunteers at Emeriti Park each season.”

As part of her duties, she designed and implemented landscape plans, monitored landscape work on construction projects, including tree protection, and supervised campus tree maintenance and replanting. She also developed the sustainability side of the grounds department.

During her time on campus, she assisted with the creation of naturalized areas and pollinator gardens across campus. She also helped ensure compatibility with the Tree Campus Higher Education recognition requirements, which OHIO has been awarded for the past six years.

Every year, she tended to OHIO’s historic cherry trees that line the Hockhocking Adena Bikeway. The cherry trees were given as a gift in 1979 by Chubu University in honor of OHIO’s 175th anniversary.

Preparation for the blooms included pruning, mulching tree bases, setting out lights with the electric crew, and daily inspecting with an eye on the weather. “The hard task was predicting the timing of peak bloom!” 

During Calhoun’s tenure, she had many significant moments with the cherry trees. In 2004, 104 trees were replaced, with former grounds director Mark Whitney designing the new layout. In 2011, a somber ceremony recognized the tragic tsunami event in Japan. In 2014, a polar vortex brought extremely low temperatures which resulted in fewer flowers blooming that season.

Lighting the trees became a tradition, Calhoun noted, and she worked with the Facilities Management Electric Shop to switch the power source for lighting from a diesel generator to a nearby electric line, changing to more efficient LED bulbs to reduce noise, emissions and energy. 

“Each year the appreciation and number of people visiting during peak bloom seemed to grow and especially after Ohio University was named one of the best locations in the United States to view cherry tree blossoms by National Geographic in 2019,” Calhoun said. “After that year, news media from around the Ohio and West Virginia often visited during early bloom stage to film a story.”

The OHIO community can track the blooms online on the Cherry Blossoms webpage.

Calhoun is staying busy in her retirement, making time for hobbies as well as participating still as a member of the OHIO Tree Advisory committee.

“Retirement is taking shape with volunteerism, gardening, involvement with political and environmental issues, catching up and renewing old friendships and spending as much time in nature as possible,” she said.

“In retrospect, I am grateful for the opportunity I was given to care for the beautiful and historic Ohio University landscape,” Calhoun continued. “I learned from amazing professors and mentors such as Dr. Arthur Blickle, Dr. Richard Rypma and landscaper George Carper, who planted the original cherry trees on campus. I had the good fortune to work under leaders such as President Charles Ping, Chuck Culp, and Grounds Director Dan Stright who hired me as the first female manager in Grounds.”

April 3, 2023
Jalyn Bolyard