Tending to ‘the Prettiest Spot on Campus’
Melvin Young has been asked about booking a wedding, giving tours and even if the city’s founder, Henry DeLand, once lived there.
As the full-time gardener at the President’s Home at Stetson University, Young is used to passersby stopping to gaze at the historic home, its grounds and the Vera Lea Rinker Native Plant Garden. They often ask if they can have a peek inside the fenced garden and take a few pictures, but Young must tell them it’s a private residence.
“I get asked that all the time,” Young said, with a laugh. “I had two visitors yesterday ask, “Can I just walk around and look?
“I like to say I work at the prettiest spot on campus and the quietest.”
Young has worked as a college groundskeeper since he was 19, fresh out of high school, at Presbyterian College in his hometown of Clinton, S.C.
Later, he went to work for Furman University in Greenville, S.C., listed as one of the most beautiful college campuses in America.
Young was a groundskeeper there for 14 years, tending to, among other things, a rose garden with 1,000 rose bushes, a 30-acre lake, a dozen swans and assorted ducks. And at Furman, he just happened to work for a vice president for Business Affairs and Chief Financial Officer named Wendy B. Libby, Ph.D.
Young, an ordained minister, took an early retirement and moved to DeLand in 2000, becoming pastor of Macedonia Baptist Church on Beresford Avenue. He read in the newspaper that Stetson had hired a new president, Dr. Wendy Libby, who started in July 2009.
About the same time, he was thinking about returning to work and saw an ad in the paper for a gardener at the Stetson President’s Home.
“When I noticed in the paper that Dr. Libby was going to be the president, I said it couldn’t be the same Dr. Libby that I know. I told my wife, I’m going out to the office there and see,” recalled Young, married for 44 years to his high school sweetheart, Ernestine, with four grown children and 11 grandchildren.
“I thought she couldn’t be here in Florida, but sure enough, when I got there, they said, “Yes, it’s the same Dr. Wendy Libby.”
When the two met again, Young told her he was a pastor at a local church and was trying to get hired at Stetson.
“I want to work at the President’s House,” he told her. “And that’s all I remember.”
When the two worked at Furman in the 1990s, Young was the head of all campus grounds except the ones for athletic facilities, Libby said.
“He was a great supervisor who cared about his staff and about how the campus looked,” Libby said. “I was so excited to meet back up with Melvin after we moved here. …
“My husband, Richard, and I are very fortunate to have him over at the President’s Home because he takes such good care of the property. And, he and I wave and say hello most every morning on my way to work, a pleasant way to start the day.”
A walk around the grounds and nearly two-acre garden shows his meticulous attention to detail. The garden looks beautiful and it has to, he added. Important guests of the university president may arrive on a moment’s notice. Many official events take place at the home and in the garden, which serves as a backdrop for official photos, such as the champagne toast for graduating seniors each spring.
“I love it, I really love it,” Young said of his job, as he walked through the garden and pointed out various trees and plants, and a butterfly garden.
Libby said she and her husband often relax in the garden, especially with their two Labrador Retrievers.
“I love the bricked garden walk and benches,” she said. “It’s a perfect place to sit and enjoy watching our dogs roll around in the grass. We know it is 1/14 mile around the brick walk, so sometimes we walk around it multiple times to get some exercise.”
Stetson installed the Vera Lea Rinker Native Plant Garden in 2007. Before that, the lot beside the President’s Home was used for parking. But after visits by a number of dignitaries, including former President Jimmy Carter, the university decided to landscape the area, said David Rigsby, manager for Grounds in Stetson’s Facilities Management.
Passersby mistakenly have thought the neoclassical-style home once belonged to city founder Henry DeLand. But the DeLand House, built in 1886, is around the corner on Michigan Avenue. The President’s Home was built in 1910 and purchased by Stetson in 1948.
“Melvin’s done a good job over there,” Rigsby said. “He is a very sweet man, soft-spoken, nice guy, and he’s got a great laugh.
“He has been first rate in my eyes, a great employee,” he said.