Planting a Legacy, Dave Nielsen Retires

Groundskeeper Dave Nielsen is retiring after serving Reed for 24 years.

By Lauren Cooper ’16 | March 1, 2016

You know Dave Nielsen. You’ve seen him pruning the roses outside Sullivan, pushing a wheelbarrow across the Quad, or riding a lawnmower on the Great Lawn with a bandana over his face. Dave retired last week, having worked at Reed for more than 24 years.

Dave’s first day on the job was December 10, 1991. Before Reed, he had worked at the Gresham parks department, plus done stints as Safeway checker and McDonald’s cook.

Since then, Dave has left an indelible mark on campus. One example is the profusion of rose bushes outside Sullivan. He calls that area “My Mom’s Garden,” because it’s thanks to his mother’s emphasis on education that Reed has the flowers. Several years ago, Dave and his two daughters, who were aged around ten and twelve at the time, were shopping at the Lloyd Center mall when the signs scattered around caught his eye. The mall was holding a promotion: spend $75, bring in your receipt, get a free rose bush.

What Dave noticed, however, were two glaring errors: both “receipt” and “receive” were misspelled.

“Now, my mom was a high-school English teacher and she was insistent on ‘i before e, except after c,’” he remembers. “So I wrote them a letter saying the signs were spelled incorrectly. They wrote back telling me they had 25 rose bushes left over, and I should take them, and do whatever I wanted with them. So I brought them to Reed and [former Treasurer] Ed McFarlane picked the spot.”

Another sign of Dave? The maple trees in the swale between Growing Seeds and 28 West. Back when the new wing of the library was built, several baby maples were torn out to make room. Dave took them home and planted them in his own backyard. Eventually, they grew too big, and his wife objected, so he brought them back to Reed and replanted them next to 28 West.

Dave also lavished special attention on Reed’s language houses. Around the French House, he planted shrubs named Antoinettes. Around the Spanish House he planted flowers named Tequilas. The German House plays host to a variety of rose named Mozart (OK, Mozart was Austrian, but had a German father).

When he learned that Prof. Pancho Savery [English 1995–] is a fan of the Rolling Stones, Dave planted ornamental flowers named Lady Janes next to the entrance of Vollum that Prof. Savery frequents.

Dave has entertained generations of students with his observations on everything from Venezuelan politics to Baroness Margaret Thatcher to the Red Sox. When asked about his time at Reed, he says, “I don’t brag that much about Reed but when people ask where I work I’m proud to say I work for Reed College—it’s a badge of honor.”

We will miss Dave but we’re glad that his legacy at Reed will keep on growing.

Tags: Campus Life