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Miami groundskeeper gives students a place to call home

The frequent April showers that have sprinkled the grounds of Miami University's campus time and again have finally brought along the cheerful colors of the May flowers that are on proud display. In front of Pearson Hall, tulips of red and yellow sway in the breeze, while pink petals drift gently down from the cherry trees outside of Armstrong. The trees and lawns of Miami grow a verdant green seemingly everywhere.

But this bright display of nature isn't entirely natural.

Throughout the spring, dozens of individuals roam the campus, clipping down weeds and reigning in overzealous plants wherever they rear their heads: the groundskeepers of Miami University Physical Facilities.

Andrew Clark is one of many Miami groundskeepers. Along with his co-workers, he helps keep Miami's campus looking beautiful year-round.

Andrew's job includes trimming the grass so that it doesn't spill over onto the sidewalks, pulling up weeds to ensure they don't mar the pristine green fields and taking care of the flower beds when leaves or debris threaten to encroach upon them.

He's worked for the university for a year and a half, and despite the sometimes arduous nature of the job, says that he's happy to do what he does.

"It's because I get to be outside," he said. "No matter what other jobs I've done, I've always missed being outside. Here, I get to work outdoors and I get to learn about plants and be surrounded by all these beautiful trees and things."

Born and raised in Oxford, Andrew graduated from Miami in 2010, majoring in kinesiology and health. While at the university, he worked with the Grounds crew as a part-time employee. Taking care of the campus made him realize how much he enjoyed working with plants.

"I guess it was always something that I'd liked. I loved being in the creeks and woods when I was a kid," he said. "But working [at Miami] was the first time I knew it was something I really enjoyed."

But his love for the outdoors isn't Andrew's only interest.

While studying at Miami, a music professor got him into blues music; his favorite artists are Leon Bridges and Gary Clark Jr. He watches Indycar racing with his dad and brother, rooting for Marco Andretti, and, like any good Cincinnati-area resident, he's a big Reds fan.

And, at least for a time, he was interested in traveling. After college, he left Oxford with a friend of his to teach English in Thailand.

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"When we graduated, we had no idea what we were gonna do," Andrew said. "He had the idea to teach English, and I just thought 'Well, yeah, I'll do that.'"

He stayed in Thailand for six years, enjoying the warm weather, excellent food and unique flora. In the midst of all these new experiences, he met his wife while she was working at a 7/11 in the town of Trat, where he was teaching at the time.

"Regardless of the language barrier, we were an instant match," he said.

Even an ocean away, Andrew's interest in working with plants persisted. He helped his father-in-law grow pineapples, all the while marveling at how things like water lilies and durians were so vastly different from the vegetation back home.

Three years ago, he and his wife decided to move back to Oxford. He got a job working for the university and quickly remembered why he liked the job so much in the first place. He said he hopes to be able to make students across campus, particularly those who aren't from the area, feel more welcome.

"I know what it's like to live somewhere unfamiliar," Andrew said. "That's why I try to talk to students, to make them feel more at home and welcomed. Doing the work that I do, I also hope to make the campus feel like a place they want to call home."

Clark said that despite the manual labor-intensive work he does, it's always worth it.

"I love working with the flowers. It's a pride thing, where I can look at them and know I made them look as nice as possible," he said. "And sometimes I'll get a student come up to me and just say, like, 'Thanks for doing this.' That makes it worth it for me."