In the effort to promote positivity and trust surrounding journalism, the Gateway aims to write a series of good news stories throughout the year. Titled “the Greatway,” we hope to establish a foundation of service and pride in the UNO community. If you know anyone doing something great on campus, drop us a line at our Facebook page!
Angie Aday looks a lot like Katniss Everdeen of The Hunger Games. Her hair is in a long and immaculate braid, her tan arms lean and strong from her daily tending to the grounds of the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO.) One of two female workers of UNO’s Landscaping Services, she is tenacious and diligent, though she isn’t the stone cold warrior you would immediately picture from the post-apocalyptic trilogy. She is kind, loving and at peace with the natural world: practically designed for this very job.
Aday’s day begins with litter cleanup, and depending on the previous evening’s weather, scooping up leaves and tree limbs after storms. From there, she does what is required of her and with whatever extra time she has, she plants flowers around campus—flowers from seeds that she purchases in packs at the Dollar Tree with her own time and money.
“Due to budget cuts, we were not given the freedom to plant as many annual flowers as we used to,” Aday says. “I figured the folks who were used to seeing flowers where they work shouldn’t have to change that, so I took it upon myself to spread the love.”
There are many reasons Aday calls to nature to find a sense of belonging. She is a third generation Cherokee, grew up in California and has a Bachelor’s degree in biology from UNO. After graduating in 2010 and spending time working alongside biology faculty on campus, focusing on paleobotany, she needed to take over a different job to work more hours. Fast forward 16 years, and she has set a standard for passion and devotion as a grounds keeper.
And she’s good at it.
“I am a spiritual person,” Aday says. “But I don’t go to church everyday. Having my hands in the dirt, hearing the wind in the trees, being educated about the Great Plains—that’s my church.”
As with many congregations (religious or otherwise), the community surrounding UNO’s natural appearance is a close-knit community. Although there are only a handful of individuals (including the landscape manager, supervisor, student workers, and boots-on-the-ground workers) a part of Dodge Campus’s Landscape Services, outside help from the UNO neighborhood is a key ingredient to the beautiful campus.
A group of retired office personnel called the Green Thumbs comes to campus once a week to pull weeds, tend to areas that get a lot of growth, and keep the grounds ship-shape.
“Those women are a force to be reckoned with,” Aday says. “We have a lot of open positions on our crew, but applicants are far and few between. To see members of the community, contribute to this work because they simply want to means a lot.”
Aday says that students can also be observant of their environment and be mindful of the mark they leave. She says UNO wants to become a zero-waste campus by 2020, so if something is recyclable, she urges everyone to recycle it.
“Parents visit this campus with potential students, and the outside entryways are the first things they see,” Aday says. “If the campus shows neglect, they don’t want their children to go here.”
Speaking with Aday, I know neglect is the very last thing on her mind. Before our interview, she kept her orange utility vehicle running outside of Eppley Administration to make sure the air conditioning was running smoothly. While we spoke, she plucked weeds out of the ground, saying that the school color-coordinated flowers at the campus’s main entries are special ordered for UNO. She asked about my passions, why I write, and what I want to do with my life.
“This job is for people who take pride in this campus,” Aday says. “I always tell people that this is just my big backyard.”
Because of that fact alone, Aday makes us feel that we can all be invited back.