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Inside Iowa State, a newspaper for faculty and staff, is published by the Office of University Relations.

Oct. 24, 2008

Les Lawson

Les Lawson, campus services manager, has been a part of the Iowa State landscape since 1984. His handiwork can be found in many parts of campus, including the small crop of Indian corn grown this summer on the west side of the Memorial Union. Photo by Bob Elbert.

A man of all seasons

by Erin Rosacker

It's a job that quite literally changes with the seasons. And with the early arrival of autumn, Les Lawson is savoring his favorite time of the year.

"I like fall. I enjoy the cooler temperatures," Lawson said. "Winter is right around the corner, and that's my least favorite."

And for good reason. For the manager of campus services in facilities planning and management, winter's ice and snow bring long hours. But the Minnesota native is quick to point out that it really isn't the season he dreads. It's the potential workload it might bring.

"I don't mind winter at all, if it weren't for moving the snow," he said. "That's usually a time when we do our tree and shrubbery pruning. All we got done last year was shovel snow. Mother Nature has not been good for the last few years here."

No typical days

The scope of campus services is hard to pin down, yet nearly everyone on campus is affected by the work of Lawson's division.

"If it has something to do with outside, we're probably involved in it," he said.

He oversees 46 full-time staff members and a bevy of student help. The "softscape" group, headed up by Barb Steiner, primarily deals with plant materials -- mowing, trimming, planting, pruning and overall care of campus vegetation. The "hardscape" group, supervised by Tim Watson, handles campus sidewalks, streets, signage and heavy equipment.

The only portions of campus that don't fall under Lawson's umbrella are Veenker Memorial Golf Course, athletics facilities and farms. That doesn't mean campus services crews aren't working in certain parts of campus. They're willing to get involved with any kind of project.

"We're only half-funded, so we look for anything we can do. We'll move a desk, or put up a banner for somebody," Lawson said. "Events are big for us. We help with delivering garbage cans, or whatever they need to make that event go."

Outdoor office

The diversity of his responsibilities tend to keep Lawson's schedule in flux.

"We plan ahead, but it will change six times in a day," he said. "Somebody's going to want something offloaded from a truck, or a utility dig. It changes, and we have to be flexible."

But it's that variety that Lawson relishes in his job.

"I don't come and sit at my desk every day and have a routine," he said. "My schedule can look like it's open for the day and by the time I go home at night I just say, 'Wow, I didn't get anything done except run.' I like it -- it makes the day go fast."

If he had his pick, Lawson would spend his days hands-on with the campus landscape -- something he doesn't find enough time to enjoy.

"When you're going from here to there, you don't really have the time to take a look and see the beauty that other people get to see," Lawson said.

He finds his outlet for landscaping at his Nevada home, which he shares with Pauline Korell. The pair, together for 26 years, carefully tends to the yard.

"It's a passion between the two of us," he said. "The yard is pretty well landscaped. I like to keep it looking sharp."

The road to Ames

Lawson, who earned a park management degree at the University of Minnesota's Crookston campus, landed in Ames when he took a supervisor job at the state forest nursery on the city's south side. Three years later (1984), he joined FP&M as a groundskeeper.

After working through the ranks of supervisor (1987) and assistant manager (1996), Lawson assumed his manager duties in 2004.

"When I came here, Agronomy Hall was being built and we were just putting in a bunch of trees," he said. "Now you see the trees mature, and it makes you feel old. Campus has really grown."

Despite the growth, Lawson thinks the original campus planners would be pleased.

"We've left central campus alone for the most part, and that was the big game plan," he said. "Even around new buildings, they stick with a plan that mirrors the rest of campus. We don't have islands of different landscape. I think they've done a good job."

In Lawson's 24 years at Iowa State, he's gained an intimate knowledge of campus. He confessed he'll find a way to make occasional trips by Lake LaVerne, his favorite spot. He also believes the Lagomarcino courtyards could be ISU's best-kept secret.

"It's probably the nicest area we have. It's an oasis in there," he explained. "We have a lot of special plants that wouldn't be able to grow unless we had the courtyards. We take a little more care in there, just to try to keep it looking better."


"We plan ahead, but it will change six times in a day ... It changes, and we have to be flexible."

Les Lawson, campus services manager