In 1997, J. K. Rowling published her first book of the Harry Potter series and Microsoft was dubbed the world’s most valuable company. It was also the year Darrin McKim, head groundskeeper, began his job at Newman University.
McKim, who is originally from Salina, said his favorite part of the job is definitely the people.
“It’s nice to wake up in the morning and go to a job that you love,” McKim said. “All the people are very friendly and I enjoy coming here.”
Although his groundskeeper tasks may change from day to day — such as the time he planted 3,000 tulip bulbs — McKim always stays busy.
“You don’t have just one hat at Newman, you’ve got many,” McKim said. “I do everyday maintenance requests like changing light bulbs or fixing things, but I also take care of things like landscaping and the two ponds that house goldfish, koi and catfish.”
McKim often spends his summer days pulling weeds in the flower beds, picking up trash, removing fallen tree limbs and maintaining the fountain outside of Sacred Heart Hall. He also hops on his John Deere mower and ensures that the Wilkins Soccer Field and practice fields are in tip-top shape for athletes.
Colder months, on the other hand, can call for snow removal across all 15 miles of campus sidewalks.
“The wintertime is a whole different ball game depending on the weather,” McKim said. “If there’s snow, I’m usually here. I’ve come in at 11 o’clock, 12 o’clock at night and shoveled snow all through the night to make sure sidewalks are safe before people show up in the mornings.”
Ultimately, McKim’s job is to make sure everything on campus is safe, he said.
“All that, and chasing our lovely geese off,” he said with a smile.
Students, faculty and staff are no strangers to the geese, squirrels and cats that enjoy the university grounds so much so they seem to claim it as their home. McKim said he has even seen foxes, deer, coyotes, skunks, opossums and raccoons roaming campus.
“My second or third year here, we had wild turkeys on campus,” he said. “And then you have the occasional bat retrieval. We’ll get them in the attic every now and then over in DeMattias Hall and O’Shaughnessy Hall.”
Other staff have reported seeing hawks, red-winged blackbirds and a white egret that frequents the ponds. One student was on a run around campus when she spotted a lone chicken.
“It’s definitely an interesting campus,” McKim added.
A witness of change
During his 24 years at Newman, McKim has been present for many faculty and staff changes as well as building upgrades.
“I remember any time we had flooding rains, we had to pump a lot of water out of the elevator shaft in the old science center (Heimerman),” McKim said. “They eventually got rid of Heimerman and then we got the Bishop Gerber Science Center, which was a blessing.”
Many of McKim’s closest Newman friends have retired over the years, but one of his favorite people to work with continues to make a difference both on and off campus: Professor Emeritus Larry Heck of the Division of Social Sciences.
“We made the connection that Larry’s parents lived next to my grandparents a long time ago,” McKim said. “He recently retired, but Larry’s a pretty fun guy just to talk to.”
McKim added, “I just enjoy all the people at Newman. It’s been a fun place to work, and I enjoy it.”