Stanley Fang ’21
As the gentle April breeze blows, multi-colored petals dance to the ground, signaling the arrival of spring to Mercersburg students. The magnolia, elm, and cherry trees burst into colours as the campus transitions from winter to spring. These trees, placed intentionally, open the campus up to the mountains in the background. The scenery is breathtaking, as if Bob Ross himself painted it, except the mastermind behind it is Avery Cook.
Avery Cook is the Ground Maintenance Supervisor on campus, and he has worked at Mercersburg Academy for 36 years. Growing up near Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania, Cook was surrounded by extraordinary landscape work. This fed his passion for landscape design. From there, he pursued an agricultural landscape path at Purdue University. This study eventually led him to the role of Ground Maintenance Supervisor at Mercersburg.
When students on campus think of ground maintenance, they imagine shoveling snow and mowing grass. But in reality, Mercersburg’s groundskeepers do much more. Cook explained that the grounds crew has to also plan where new trees should be located. This comes with its own set of problems, as they have to work with the historical trees that are deeply rooted on campus. Furthermore, nature is often hard to predict and control. When Cook coordinates the layout of the trees, he has to consider long term care for the trees as well. Simply put: this is not an easy task.
Given the difficulties of landscape design, it may be hard to picture why anyone would decide to work in this field. Cook said, “You’ve got to follow your bliss…everybody has got something to do in this life… I kind of knew what I wanted to do.” The “something” Cook has to do is to nurture a campus that is “elegantly simplistic.” Cook said, “I want people as they come through here to remember this place as a special place.” This is what he has done for the previous graduating classes with the elegant flowers and resilient trees.
Besides planning the vegetation on campus, Cook must lead his team as the supervisor. His relationships with his co-workers demonstrates that he is not only an expert in his field but also in working with others. Bill Mann has been a co-worker of Cook for 24 years. Mann described Cook as a person that does “anything and everything to try and be good to us… he truly takes care of his employees.” Cook is a man of both nature and people.
Students often overlook integral parts of campus life that keep the machine going. Cook is one of them. He is an irreplaceable cog at the center of this machine known as Mercersburg Academy, and he has kept it running for the past 36 years. Students may not know who he is, but they will surely remember his work in creating a campus that sets the graceful stage for everlasting memories.