Steve Jenks gazes up at a 15-foot-tall blue atlas cedar that he says will quadruple in size someday, though he doubts he’ll be alive to see it. On a summer day outside the School of Medicine on the Hospital Hill campus, he points out annuals and describes the growth patterns and watering needs of more than two dozen plants, flowers and trees. He then suggests stopping by the ornamental peach tree for a taste of the fruit, joking that the landscape is edible. “It only tastes OK,” he says.
Jenks is the landscape supervisor at UMKC, and he can describe how almost every inch of the Volker and Hospital Hill campuses have transformed over the years. And he would know. In his two decades at UMKC, he’s one of the few people who have roamed almost all 190 acres via lawn mower. His team ensures the grass is evenly trimmed in the spring and summer—an unending race that begins every day before dawn.
Presenting the face of campus
Jenks says the creative nature of his work keeps him going every day. “Creativity is one of the things that’s fun about this job,” Jenks says. But he must balance creativity with practicality. Each planting comes with a purpose, and Jenks and his team take into consideration the lighting, heat and soil type and make sure everything blends together naturally and environmentally.
In 12 years in his current role, Jenks has stumbled upon a few oddities around the Volker and Hospital Hill campuses. He uncovered a 1912 license plate and a perfectly spherical stone the size of a manhole cover. “That part of the job is pretty neat,” Jenks says. “I get to see what people don’t even know is around them.”
While the hidden gems are a plus for Jenks, the job is about helping UMKC present its best face. “If we don’t do what we’ve been doing, people won’t be interested in coming here,” he says. “That’s our part, and students are attracted to that. They can tell we care, and they feel that we’re important.”