A day on the job with George Sanders

It’s hard to find a man happier and more eager to serve on Norwich’s campus than George Sanders, one of the hard-working grounds crew.

The business of keeping Norwich University clean and landscaped falls to the team of blue-shirted personnel who can easily be seen walking around campus hard at work.

Mowing, shoveling, snow removal, room set ups, planting, and general outside upkeep are the duties of the grounds crew at Norwich University. It is not an easy task for the 11-member crew to keep all 1200 acres of Norwich land in pristine condition.

The strength of the grounds crew lies in the dedication and personal effort put forth by each employee and the coordination of information from their superiors – safe to say it’s no easy job.

“I love it, I’m outside working, inside, making everyone happy, seeing everyone smile,” said George Sanders, 34, who lives in Northfield. “I’ve been doing this work all my life, it comes naturally.”

Sanders is part of this dynamic team of grounds crew at Norwich University and especially during the winter season, he can be found among the other grounds keepers in the constant battle of snow removal and maintenance keeping the campus groomed, cleaned, and attractive.

“I shoveled for a long time and now I moved up to a plow truck,” said Sanders. “But we do everything from mowing to set-ups, firewood for fires on campus at different events, pretty much anything you need, really.”

According to Norwich University’s job postings online, “The Grounds Crew worker will perform all duties in a safe and professional manner and in accordance with established departmental policies and procedures; assist General Services as assigned; and performs associated Facilities Operations work as requested, including, but not limited to plumbing, electrical, carpentry and custodial.”

“We work with carpenters, janitors, and plumbers, you know, if they need help, you want to help them out,” said Sanders.

The secret to being good at his job: years and years of personal experience.

“It isn’t like you take a step in and know exactly what you’re doing,” said Sanders. “You learn as you go, you learn different trades and how to be more efficient, like how to shovel a stair faster.”

These years of experience and constant on-the-spot learning opportunities have turned employees like Sanders into experts at their craft. Like many Norwich staff, Sanders had a family member working at Norwich that inspired Sanders to work for the university as well.

“My grandmother worked here as a secretary,” said Sanders. “I was working with my dad as a carpenter, and my mom wanted me to have a job that had benefits and was full-time, and everyone knew my grandmother, everyone loved my grandmother, so she put in a good word for me.”

Working on his 14th year now at Norwich University, Sanders has had a career of working with great people, friends, and family.

No day is the same for Sanders. Every day is different and offers a constant battle with Mother Nature in Vermont and the fight of policing litter around campus.

“Every month is different,” said Sanders. “The summer, fall, winter, and spring are all different.”

“In the summer, we’re pretty much mowing and weed whacking,” said Sanders. “Little odd jobs around here and there, getting ready for the Rooks to arrive.”

“In the fall, the kids get here and we have set-ups to do,” said Sanders. “We have to rake leaves, rake the dirt off the lawns and make sure that when the parents drop their kids off it looks perfect and all green.”

The winter is the highlight of a grounds crew career, and not necessarily for good reasons. It can be a tough season for Vermont and Norwich University.

“Our hours during the winter months vary,” Sanders explained. “We have a salt call group, we have about three people per group, and can come here as early as four.”

During spring break at Norwich there wasn’t much spring to be seen. Winter Storm Stella dropped 24 inches of snow, which caused the first closure of the school since Pearl Harbor.

This was noted by the Norwich University Facebook official statement: “The Norwich University campus will close today, Tuesday, March 14 at noon due to severe winter weather.” But that doesn’t mean Sanders had a snow day.

“When the whole school shuts down for bad weather, the grounds crew is still here shoveling and plowing,” said Sanders. “People depend on us, and we were here until four when the rest of the school left at noon.”

Winter Storm Stella brought out all of Norwich’s equipment to take on the storm, and they used just about everything they had nonstop until the snow slowed down in the afternoon.

“We’ve got plow trucks, Bobcats, we got the loader, and about ten shovels and three push behind blowers,” said Sanders. “I think we’re pretty good.”

Their hard work does not go unnoticed though. Families and students are no strangers to complimenting the work ethic of the grounds crew, he said.

“People and families will stop by and say we did an awesome job,” said Sanders.

The grounds crew is also responsible for monitoring the entire campus, keeping the trash off the streets and parking lots.

“Policing stuff, and picking up trash in the parking lots is probably the thing that goes by unnoticed,” said Sanders. “Picking up cigarette butts and stuff like that.”

Sanders plans to stay at Norwich for a long time. He doesn’t plan on changing his dream job anytime soon. “Until I retire,” said Sanders, who is all positive attitude.

“I try to make everyone’s day, like I said I try to make everyone smile,” said Sanders. “Even if somebody is having a bad day. Try to make them laugh, keep everything positive, even if I’m in a bad mood I try to keep everything positive.”

Even on his worst day, Sanders smiles and just tries to get through the day. This is the attitude of the grounds crew.

“I gotta say I work with a whole good crew, we’re like family pretty much,” said Sanders. “We’re there for everybody and if someone is down, we got their back, it’s not like we do a certain job and say ‘Well the heck with these guys’, we’ll go from here to here and help everyone out.”


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