The men behind the Butler blooms

In an obscure office on the corner of 52nd Street and Boulevard Place, past the Apartment Village, sit two men. Their names are James Conner and Kevin Steckbeck.

You probably have not heard their names before, but you have seen their handiwork.

For the past 25 years, these two men have been responsible for all of Butler University’s flowers.

Conner started out as a groundskeeper at Butler by answering an ad in the newspaper. After 10 years on staff, he became the supervisor of grounds.

Steckbeck has been here 30 years. He also started out on grounds staff and is now the lead groundskeeper.

Every November, Conner and Steckbeck go to 52nd and Boulevard to plan the flowers for each year.

“We’ve just done this for so long that we know what works well here,” Conner said.

There are around 18 flower beds and 45 pots on campus.

“We want it to remain beautiful and enlightening to the students, faculty and staff who walk by,” Gerald Carlson, director of maintenance services, said.

Conner and Steckbeck both said a well-maintained campus attracts more students.

There have been studies, Conner said, that show the aesthetics of a campus are one of the top five reasons a student picks a college.

Stephanie Klingenmeier, a sophomore, said the park-like atmosphere was part of her decision to come to Butler.

“All the flowers make Butler very peaceful and enjoyable to walk through,” Klingenmeier said.

The planting process begins in March, when they edge mulch areas for the flowers, bushes and trees.

Then they prep the flower beds before planting and watering the seeds.

Also, they de-head the flowers and trim the bushes and trees.

And in November they plan it all again.

Conner and Steckbeck try new flowers each year. They plant them in Holcomb Gardens before they put them on campus, Conner said.

“I like to try different stuff because, after a while, the same thing gets kind of stale,” Conner said.

With the ever-changing Indiana weather, not every flower makes it.

“It’s heart breaking when we try out some flowers and a disease comes through and wipes them out,” Steckbeck said. “It’s like just missing a home run.”

Conner and Steckbeck’s work is appreciated by students and professionals alike.

Junior Nicole Sheetz walks through Holcomb Gardens every day to get to her University Terrace apartment.

“I like nature, and the flowers make Butler very homey,” Sheetz said.

Leigh Robinson is a professional photographer who owns Leigh Robinson Photography. She lives near Butler and does photo shoots in Holcomb Gardens.

“It’s beautiful and well-kept,” Robinson said. “You have the formal garden on one side, and then you have a more casual look by the steps and fountain.”

A beautiful campus is not easy to keep, Steckbeck said.

“Our jobs can range from curb appeal to cutting the biggest tree,” Steckbeck said. “But the simplest job can sometimes be the hardest job.”

Including Conner and Steckbeck, 12 employees tend to the flora on campus.

Carlson said they would like to have 18 individuals, especially with more buildings being added to campus.

While theirs might seem like a tedious job, the green thumbs at the heart of Butler’s groundskeeping also find it rewarding.

“If I didn’t like this job,” Conner said, “I wouldn’t be here this long,”

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