The man behind the mower

By Mary Valterria
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Groundsperson Miguel Arias looks upon the Riverside City College grounds during his lunch break. Chris Edson | Viewpoints

 

Being a grounds person is usually connected with un-glamorous thoughts of cleaning up after others and working unsavory hours. Riverside City College Groundsperson Miguel Arias, however, says that his profession actually provides a foundation for school campuses and he is proud to deliver such a vital service.

“I’m very proud of the way the campus looks and I’m very proud to be part of the grounds keeping team,” said Arias, who has dedicated over 20 years to working at Riverside City College.

“First thing in the morning we pick up and empty the trash and we use the blower to clean the general area,” said Arias.

Throughout the day, he takes on a number of tasks, including trimming the bushes and cutting the grass.

“The students deserve a nice, beautiful environment to learn in,” said Arias. “I hope (they) are as proud of their campus as I am.”

RCC student Maria Jimenez said she is indeed proud of her school grounds and has seen Arias around campus.

“Every time I see him he is making sure that the (campus) is well-kept,” said Jimenez.

Jimenez is taking her very first college course at RCC this semester and has also worked for over 20 years as a housekeeper at a local hospital. She said she knows the pride that comes with the labor, and can see that Arias has a lot to be proud of.

“I respect him,” said Jimenez. “He works so hard.”

Arias, who is 62, grew up in Mexico and immigrated at the age of 22. He then started working as a field picker in Northern California.

“I worked with the Cesar Chavez union,” said Arias. “It opened my eyes to what was fair and what was not fair.”

Arias’ ties to the union leader and labor organizer only amplified the honor he felt during the Cesar Chavez event that took place at RCC earlier this year. Arias, who is married with children and grandchildren, felt so privileged to be part of the event that he even included his family in the festivities.

Arias’ granddaughters, sang during the event that celebrated Chavez’s accomplishments.

Julisa Veron, who will  be 12 in the coming weeks, said she and her sister, Juliana Evita Veron, both hope to achieve their own accomplishments and plan to attend RCC before transferring to a university.

Arias has had an influence on his granddaughters and encourages them to work hard and pursue higher education.

“My grandfather always tells (us) that if we want a better job than (the one he has) that we have to work hard and stay in school,” said Julisa Veron.

Arias said that he felt rewarded by his family’s participation in the celebration and felt privileged to be a part of the committee for the event. 

Arias has contributed in the preparation for most campus events including graduation every June.

“It’s a proud moment for the families of (the graduates),” he said.

“We work so hard to make the grounds look good for the special day, so it’s a proud moment for me too,” he added.

According to Arias, graduation is also the only time of year that extra help is given to the grounds keeping team, despite being short five staff members. 

Arias said he remembers a time that RCC had a full team that cared for the grounds.

“There were flowers blooming everywhere,” said Arias. “It was beautiful.”

Arias explained that when he started at RCC the processes for grounds keeping were different because there was a different type of management.

“Each groundsperson was responsible for their own area and we all took pride in making sure that our areas were the best they could be,” said Arias, as he recalled his early days at RCC.

Arias said that even though the grounds keeping team could use a little more help, the team strives to keep the campus in good shape. Arias admits, however, that there are areas that need improvement.

“There aren’t as many flowers on campus anymore,” said Arias. “The roses that we do still have aren’t trimmed as often.”

Despite the challenges of being short staffed, Arias said he loves coming to campus every day and spending his time making the grounds look good.

Even though he loves RCC and is proud of the work that he does, Arias said he plans to retire in a few years.

“Once I retire I’ll join the union again,” said Arias proudly.

Arias recognizes that the conditions in the fields, specifically up in Delano California, have improved over the years but says that “Delano still needs help,” and that the women in the fields “deal with so many issues.”

Jimenez said she appreciates Arias’ plans to retire and join the union, but that the campus “won’t be the same” without him

“He’s been a crucial part of our learning experience,” said Jimenez. “He’s created a legacy in his time here.”