Most people spend their workdays cooped up in an office daydreaming of being outside, enjoying the sunshine, breathing in the fresh air and hearing the birds chirp. For David “Dave” Layton, the outdoors is his office. Layton, 47, is a groundskeeper, or someone who mows grass fields and maintains outdoor facilities such as sidewalks and bleachers, for Radford University Facilities.
He wasn’t always in the grounds keeping business, however. Layton was in the military and did service in what he calls “Desert Storm and Desert Shield,” or the Gulf/Iraq War from 1990-1991. Layton said he didn’t get started in grounds keeping until he returned from the war.
“I needed a job, and a buddy of mine owned the company, so he put me to work, and that started the whole thing,” Layton said. “I took a hiatus for about ten years and worked in [the] airline business, and after 9/11 I decided I want to get back outside and enjoy the weather.”His workdays aren’t always the same, for things such as weather conditions can affect his ability to get the job done, so it’s important that those working in this career field have patience and adaptability.
Layton’s day mainly begins when he gets to Radford around seven or eight a.m. after he’s driven around 12 minutes from his home in Belspring, Virginia. He wears a uniform, which consists of a blue Radford University Facilities polo, which is provided by Radford University Facilities, white trousers, and sneakers. He gets in his riding mower, a lawn mower you can sit in and navigate turns the key and starts to smell the freshly cut grass as he moves down the field.
Day to day from May to October, he mows the same seven fields, some including the baseball, softball, soccer, practice soccer fields and fields by Lot Z. Even though most grounds maintenance careers don’t have to have education requirements, some employers may ask for completion of formal education or have certification in landscape design, horticulture, and arboriculture. A lot of Layton’s coworkers went to Virginia Tech for its agriculture program and recommended people who want to work in the field to get educated.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, most states require grounds workers who use pesticides and fertilizers to be licensed, which usually entails passing a test on the proper utilization and disposal of insecticides, herbicides, and fungicides. Employers provide onsite training, teaching grounds workers how to use maintenance equipment and how to plant and maintain areas.
Dan Huckestein, a grounds supervisor for Radford University Facilities, has worked with Layton for eight years. “Working with Dave is good especially when you have someone else that has experience in the field we work,” Huckestein said. “Dave is [a] kind of interesting guy that keeps to himself a lot, we get along well and help each other out as much as possible, he is a good man, and I am glad to know him.”
Layton’s most proud of the appearance of the fields during the peak season. He likes the aesthetics about the grass fields, how they look after being cut and enjoys people commenting on its appearance. When it comes to criticism towards his work, Layton said he just tries to correct it. “What we see is maybe some coaches don’t like the conditions of the fields or something, and we’ll [him and other grounds workers] make necessary changes to fix it,” he said.
Neal Leahy, the Director of Operations for Radford Athletics said he and Layton work and communicated well with each other. “He’s good at getting the best product. He does a good job [up keeping the athletic fields]. He’s a pleasure to work with, he takes his work seriously but doesn’t take himself too seriously,” Leahy said.
While working as a groundskeeper for a university has a lot of great moments, it has some upsetting ones as well. The worst thing that’s happened while Layton was on the job is when kids vandalize the fields by driving through the fields and tarring them up. It takes a long time for him to restore the grass’ beauty after that happens.
Layton said the most exciting thing that’s happened while he’s worked for Radford University Facilities are the floods by Lot Z. “You can imagine the water getting halfway up this bank [by the Rugby fields next to the parking lot]. These areas are completely under water. Having to go back and clean up Mother Nature’s about 100 dump truck loads of sand on [those] fields. We have to come in with equipment and pick it all up and take it away,” Layton said.
Layton has two sons named Aaron, 28, and Mason, 6 and a daughter named Taylor, who graduated from Radford in 2016.