The green thumbs of Orange Coast

Russell Cooper, a 51-year-old senior grounds specialist for Orange Coast College, fixes an irrigation break outside of the Associated Students Bookstore.

They are often overlooked — the guys in the green carts who traverse the campus every day, keeping it clean, fresh and ready for students to gather.

They may strive to be invisible, but they’re always working, making sure the lights always turn on and the water always flows.

They are members of Orange Coast College’s Maintenance and Operations department and they are also a family with more than a few things in common.

But for all their shared commonality, there is one thing that stands out — most of the grounds keeping crew have at one time or another been Orange Coast College students.

Kirk Rader, 62, a senior groundskeeper in charge of keeping Dick Tucker Field in tip-top shape, was an OCC student in 1975 when he was a cross country athlete.

After graduating, Rader said he worked jobs including construction and grounds keeping at other locations but returned to OCC, where for 35 years he has been making sure the college’s fields are clean and playable and safe for athletes.

He also offers a little advice for the newer grounds keepers as he looks toward retirement.

“Have pride in what you’re doing — it makes work easier and enjoyable,” he said.

In addition to those who attended OCC in the past, a few present-day grounds keepers are current students.

Jose Medina, 28, a grounds specialist, will be graduating in two weeks with a certification in heating, ventilation and air conditioning.

“I hope to utilize the skills and knowledge that I learned and apply them toward an even better position with OCC,” Medina said about his future after graduating.

Medina said his co-worker Rader is always willing to lend a helping hand.

“He never hesitated to spread the knowledge especially at his expertise, which is the sport fields,” he said.

Another current OCC student, Issai Ochoa, 29, an intern grounds keeper, said that although he originally found grounds keeping more convenient than construction jobs or his various warehouse gigs, he said that as he kept working he realized how cool and flexible this job is, especially accommodating his school schedule.

“Overall OCC has impacted me as an adult, truly giving me a solid job, and I just want to say thank you,” Ochoa said.

Throughout the years, OCC has seen lots of change and will continue to see change with the grounds keepers helping along the way.

“We will always be looking towards the future — this is greatest job in the world,” said grounds supervisor Michael Ricks.

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