May 19-25, 2000
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Sullivan Award winners show deep commitment to caring
Here's the youngest 'Hoo
Wagner exemplifies value of mentoring

Rector unearths love for human evolution

Dyslexia forced graduate to create own path for success
Boiler passes a special test
Already a pioneering online journalist, graduate plans to take on TV reporting
Student's mentoring program takes root
Medical student with passion for public health earns second master's degree
Groundskeeper has watched U.Va. and its landscape grow
Help wanted: not just for high-tech fields, but for teaching jobs, too
BUCKS' vision to give back to community will continue
Watson discovers teaching and takes history to the Web
Seeing double
Heard's degree painted with broad strokes
May graduate's dream shows how education transforms lives
Richard Shifflett
Jim Allen
Landscape Supervisor Richard Shifflett, who retired from the University this spring after 42 years of service, poses in front of the Rotunda, his favorite place on Grounds. "I never tire of looking at it."

Groundskeeper has watched U.Va. and its landscape grow

By Rebecca Arrington

As you arrive on Grounds this weekend to celebrate U.Va.'s 171st commencement, look around. The pristine buildings and well-manicured Lawn have been readied for the occasion by dedicated maintenance crews, who began work for this special time back in March.

The Grounds department, for example, has been cleaning flower beds, trimming shrubs, edging, mulching and reseeding since early spring, said landscape supervisor Richard Shifflett, who's helped prepare the Grounds for 41 graduations. Facilities Management also works "a good week-and-a-half before and after graduation to set up and take down the stage, speakers, chairs and ramps. Crews work from 5 a.m. to 5 or 6 p.m." on Finals weekend, noted Shifflett, who won't be among the early risers this go 'round. After 42 years of service to the University, he retired May 1.

"We thought about canceling graduation because Richard wouldn't be here," said his boss, landscape superintendent Jeff Ertel.

He's left things in good hands, though, assured Dick Fowler, facilities operations director. "Richard has taught others well. He has been a patient teacher and good manager, always leading by example with his positive attitude, strong work ethic, honesty and integrity," Fowler said. "The University is fortunate to have had his help for 42 years."

Over the years at U.Va., Shifflett has watched the student body, as well as the landscape, grow. The first graduation he worked, in 1959, he helped set up 2,000 chairs. "Last year on the Lawn alone, we set up 20,000," he said.

Shifflett also recalled "one graduation when we had to spray-paint the Lawn with green food coloring. Due to a severe drought, the grass was brown and yellowed. That was before the sprinkler system was installed, he said.

Just how much has U.Va.'s landscape changed during Shifflett's tenure?

"When I started here in August of 1958, University Hall, the Law, Darden and JAG schools, and the new University Hospital didn't exist. Carruthers Hall was State Farm Insurance Company, and Stacey Hall was a Sears store, he said. "There was nothing on Alderman Road except the Facilities Management building."

Shifflett's work at U.Va. has also provided him opportunities to see a number of presidents and other dignitaries. His biggest thrill was when Queen Elizabeth visited in 1976. "She really impressed me," he said.

Shifflett started work as a tree climber earning $1.25 per hour. After 10 years, he was promoted to grounds foreman. When he retired, he was a buildings and grounds supervisor A, responsible for all 35 grounds department employees, 12 of whom reported directly to him.

The University is a good place to work, with room for advancement for anyone who takes the initiative, he said. He would, however, like to see the people in his department be recognized as tradesmen. The award-winning Lawn is internationally recognized, yet those who maintain the Grounds and are required to have specialized knowledge about how to care for its trees, grass, flowers and shrubs, aren't classified as tradespersons. "We lose a lot of good people who leave our department for better-paying positions," he said.

Shifflett said he is grateful to the landscape and general services crews "for their support through the years. People give me a lot of praise and thanks for the way this place looks, but it's the result of their hard work," he said.

That feeling is mutual, said co-worker Tim Spencer. "If everyone who Richard has helped in his years at U.Va. had attended his retirement party [last month], we would have had to hold it in U Hall."

Now that he is retired, Shifflett and his wife plan to spend more time with their only granddaughter, 4-year-old Lauren. Among the projects he's tackling at home are putting a new roof on his house and some interior painting. His yard, however, needs no sprucing up.

When asked if it was as well-kept as U.Va.'s Grounds, he gave a modest smile, then a direct "yes." Like the Lawn, there are towering trees and grass as thick as carpet -- just the way Shifflett likes it.


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