By Heather Cass
Publications & Design Coordinator, Penn State Behrend
Imagine driving 100 miles a day to work. Now imagine doing it for two decades. Patricia “Patty” Blackhurst has been doing just that—commuting from her home in Linesville, fifty-two miles away, for twenty-two years—all to help make Penn State Behrend a more beautiful place.
As a groundskeeper in the Glenhill area (one of several landscaping “zones” on campus), Blackhurst and the coworkers on her crew are responsible for maintaining, improving, and caring for the grounds and walkways on lower campus from Kochel Center to the science buildings.
Blackhurst is also responsible for maintaining and caring for the indoor plants across campus.
“When I started, there were just thirteen plants in Reed,” She said. “They added more to the other buildings and asked me to propagate some new ones.”
She did, growing them right on the windowsill in the maintenance and operations office, nurturing cuttings into large plants. “I think we’re up to seventy-five plants now.”
Blackhurst’s interest in landscaping bloomed in high school, when she attended what was then a forestry program at Crawford County Vocational-Technical School. After graduation, she dabbled in property and retail management before taking a job with a Meadville landscaping company.
When an advertisement appeared in the newspaper for a position at Penn State Behrend, Blackhurst applied with plenty of experience in landscaping and running the equipment associated with it. She landed the job at Behrend and has continued to commute five days a week ever since.
While there have been other women on the groundskeeping crew over the years, Blackhurst is currently the only one. It doesn’t seem to faze her.
“I can’t say I’ve ever really thought about it,” she says with a laugh. “I love my job, and I really enjoy working outside with whoever is in my crew, men or women.”
She says the only time anyone expresses surprise at a woman working on the grounds crew is when she’s driving big equipment like the vent-track lawn mower or a backhoe.
In the winter, Blackhurst and her fellow grounds crew workers are responsible for keeping the sidewalks and paths clear. Asked if this harsh winter has ever made her wish she had a desk job indoors where it’s nice and warm, she laughs and says, “Never. I could never sit at a desk all day. It’s just not for me.”
Lucky for Penn State Behrend.
Family: She and her husband, Richard, have a son, 29, and a daughter, 33.
Favorite tree on campus: Japanese umbrella tree by the Glenhill pool and the giant sequoia tree near the Glenhill Farmhouse. “I planted that tree (the sequoia) when Dr. Ed Masteller (professor of biology emeritus) started the arboretum at Behrend several years ago,” she says. “He took me under his wing, showed me what to do, and asked me to keep an eye on the trees for him. Unfortunately, the sequoia took a beating this winter. I hope it survives.”
Worst thing about her job: Snakes
Hobbies: Gardening, of course! Blackhurst volunteers at Conneaut Lake Park,where she does landscaping work. She also enjoys working in her own yard where she has two gardens with waterfalls.
Spreading sunshine: Blackhurst has a small greenhouse where she grows her own annuals. If she has too many, she’ll bring some to Behrend and scatter them in beds around campus. “I enjoy sprinkling them here and there around campus,” she says. “I always plant some in front of the M&O office to give the women who work in the office there something nice to look at when they come to work in the morning.”
Favorite sport to watch: Football, particularly Penn State, Pittsburgh Steelers, and Seattle Seahawks.
Favorite TV shows: Law & Order and The Voice
Pet peeves: Negativity
What she wishes for students: “I wish they would look up now and then and see what they have growing around them,” she says. “They walk around campus staring at their phones with their ear buds in. They’re so closed off. They miss so much of nature.”