Larry Berry once tended the turf at Soldier Field for the Chicago Bears – athletes so massive that their combined weight and lightning speed while rushing across the field would render its …
Larry Berry once tended the turf at Soldier Field for the Chicago Bears – athletes so massive that their combined weight and lightning speed while rushing across the field would render its manicured turf to disarray by the end of the game.
So why did Berry trade the hallowed ground of Soldier Field for the pastoral setting of a college campus? He was ready for another challenge. Also, the thrill of being associated with a professional football team had worn off.
“I had enough talent and ability,” Berry said. “And I wanted to run my own show.”
Berry spoke of his career transition during a Rotary Club of Cleveland luncheon at the Museum Center.
He decided to leave the Bears organization to strike out on his own.
From there, Berry went on to become the assistant director of physical plant at Olivet Nazarene University, where he spent 11 years gaining recognition for his prowess in transforming its campus and sports fields, winning awards along the way.
It was when he was in Florida receiving an award that he got a phone call from a recruiter at Lee University. Lee wanted to meet him for an interview.
“I told them I was in Florida and couldn’t leave,” Berry said, adding that he had never heard of Cleveland, Tennessee.
“Why would a college in Tennessee want to interview me in Ohio?” Berry said, drawing laughs from the Rotarians.
He joined Lee University in 2006.
He was impressed by the campus buildings, but the campus grounds? Not so much.
“The buildings were magnificent,” Berry said. “They did a brilliant job with that. But everything else needed help, especially landscaping.”
Berry said he immediately went to work “revamping operations.” Instead of ensuring campus flora was at its finest during holiday seasons, Berry developed a whole new system to improve campus curb appeal year-round. The improvements have been an effective recruiting tool.
“We know through studies that a college student walking on our campus knows within seconds whether it’s a college they want to be at,” Berry said.
A massive amount of work and materiel are needed by the physical plant staff as they spread across campus each day to achieve and exceed Berry’s standards.
It takes 4.9 million pounds of mulch each year, mowing, edging and trimming 12 acres of lawn three times a week, and cleaning what amounts to 15 houses per day.
“All with thousands of people traveling through,” Berry said. “They [the staff] do that every single day.”
He credits all his staff with making the Lee campus one of the finest in the region, with plant life as spectacular as the campus' architecture.
“They do an outstanding job,” Berry said. “We have been making some great strides.”
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