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Grounds supervisor known for dedication to crews, campus

L.A. Cicero Mary Nolan

The university has named Nolan one of this year's winners of the Amy Blue Award. The honor includes a $3,000 prize and an "A" parking sticker for next year. The other winners are Deana Fabbro-Johnston, associate director of the Earth Systems Program, and Mary Morrison, director of funds management in the Financial Aid Office.

BY MICHAEL PENA

Mary Nolan first came to Stanford as a gardener in 1996. After a few years, she was promoted to field supervisor. Then just a few years later, she became the grounds supervisor who oversees landscape maintenance for academic areas—in other words, every garden, grove and lawn within the Campus Drive loop.

Her rise in the ranks of Grounds Services is no accident. Nolan is considered by colleagues as a natural-born leader. She is extremely dedicated and responsive, having won her department's top staff award for excellence on the job last year. Nolan also focuses on staying positive, teambuilding and mentoring—having established an internship that brings one student per year from her native Ireland to learn groundskeeping at Stanford.

For all those reasons, the university has named Nolan one of this year's winners of the Amy Blue Award. The honor includes a $3,000 prize and an "A" parking sticker for next year. The other winners are Deana Fabbro-Johnston, associate director of the Earth Systems Program, and Mary Morrison, director of funds management in the Financial Aid Office.

Ted Tucholski, another Grounds Services supervisor, for irrigation and construction crews, said Nolan always takes on every task and stays in close and constant contact with her staff—instilling enthusiasm and serving as a mentor. "She puts 110 percent behind everything she does," Tucholski said. "She makes sure everyone who's a part of Stanford in some way is taken care of."

When asked why she is so well suited to oversee the upkeep of outdoor spaces at Stanford, Nolan points to her upbringing in a rural farming community in Ireland's County Kerry. "Everyone contributed," she recalled. "We all had our chores."

Nolan supervises anywhere from 20 to almost 40 grounds workers throughout the year. The number of employees is at its highest during "peak season," which runs from March to October. That's when the grounds must look their best: New Student Orientation, Reunion Homecoming, Admit Weekend and Commencement all fall within those months, each bringing hundreds of guests onto campus.

In addition, there are the many miscellaneous events that come to Stanford in hopes that the campus will serve as a lush yet stately backdrop—ranging from high-profile conferences to Hollywood film crews.

"We're supporting that," Nolan said. To that end, she credits her growth as a leader to the support by her fellow supervisors and Grounds Services manager Herb Fong. She also notes that Stanford's outdoor spaces are beautiful because of the hard work and dedication of her crews.

But if the neatly trimmed lawns and flowers in full bloom make it seem like groundskeeping at Stanford is just gardening on a grander scale, Nolan points to what her crews do in the throes of winter, when storms toss tree branches willy-nilly and clog runoff drains with leaves and debris.

"My guys are down in the drainage ditches," Nolan said. "They're not going to let me down."

Perhaps Nolan can count on them because of the many events and activities she organizes to show her staff appreciation and build camaraderie: a fishing trip several years ago to Half Moon Bay, a challenge to join a campus-wide effort to raise money for diabetes research and even gag reels capturing the past year in Grounds Services that are shown at the annual holiday party.

The annual video has become something of a tradition in the department, with the 2007 edition starring the groundskeepers themselves griping about tussock moth caterpillars and singing about bubble bath in the fountains and mounds of mulch to the tune of Petula Clark's "Downtown."

It's all extracurricular, but Nolan said she does it anyway because it fosters a feeling of family in Grounds Services and because it sends a message that dedication means going the extra mile.

"I believe I can't ask for commitment unless I show commitment as well," Nolan said. "I think it's important to set an example."