Unsung Heroes of The Villages

PHOTO: Matthew Gaulin

PHOTO: Matthew Gaulin

Full-time Villagers surely remember those not-so-long-ago humid summer days that continuously hovered in the mid-90s. They turn carefully coiffed hairdos into limp messes and transform neatly creased shorts into wrinkled and damp heaps of cotton.

Now we’re into winter — months when occasionally the overnight temperatures dip into the 40s, or even the 30s, the kind of damp cold that seeps deep into the bones and forces many a Northern transplant to break out a seldom-used winter coat and an old pair of fleece gloves.

But whatever the weather or time of year, a group of people in and around The Villages remain consistent in their work ethic: the hundreds of contractors who keep The Villages beautiful. They  maintain the landscaping along 100 miles of golf cart paths, mow the lawns and weed and mulch the flower gardens around nine regional centers, 23 recreation centers and 38 neighborhood pools.

They meticulously maintain the executive and championship golf courses (567 holes in all), check miles of sprinkler systems and plant and maintain flowers and shrubs along miles of major roadways. They’re the people who check for mole crickets and fertilize thousands of plants.

They’re the unsung heroes responsible in part for making The Villages a special place to live — men and women who take great pride in their work and ensure The Villages stays picture perfect.

Ronald Gross is a work crew supervisor for Shepard’s Landscaping, one of the companies that keep our community so pleasing to the eye.

“I love what I’m doing,” Ronald said. “I enjoy mowing and supervising the crew — getting things done — but getting them done right.”

The 45-year-old Buffalo, New York, transplant is pleased with his crew, but applies the pressure when needed.

“I’m proud of the work they do and how good they do it,” he says. “Trust me, I brag on them to other people. I may stay on their butts but the only reason I do it is because I want them to be the best at what they do and have them be quick at the same time. I drive on these guys hard about making things look the nicest they can make it look. We have to find a happy medium though.”

Gross says it’s also important for his crew to be aware of residents as they travel through their work zones.

“When we’re out working we have to watch out for Villagers as much as they have to watch out for us,” he says. “We have to understand this is their home. I respect that. We give them the right of way. Always.”

Jonathan Lisk works with Gross and says it takes the cooperation of the residents to ensure a safe environment.

“When we’re out in traffic, I see people who will go completely out of their way to make sure I’m safe,” he says. “But then there are also those who won’t slow down at all. It takes a lot of co-existing. There’s really not any other way to do it.”

There’s something else, Gross says.

“You have to have the right attitude if you want to stay in business,” he says. “I take great pride in what I do and want this company to have a good reputation. If you’re out here doing shabby work, you’re not going to have that.”

Villagers do take notice and are quick to tell Gross’ crew what they think.

“We get a lot of emails thanking us for (our work),” Gross says. “We have people stop us on the golf paths and tell us what a good job we do. A lot of Villagers out here will interact with us.”

“We take pride in our jobs,” says Joshua Struke, a Belleview resident and another of Gross’ crew members. “You step back and look at the edging and the grass you just cut, and look for ways to do it better the next day. Villagers appreciate the hard work we do to keep this place looking nice. They stop and compliment us. That means a lot.”

Struke says his job provides a good amount of time to think.

“Working here and working hard allows me time to talk to myself about how to do better in my life,” he says. “And I’ve got all day to do that.

“I’m widowed. And I have a little 5-year-old girl named Asia. She’s more of a tomboy and a princess all put together. She’s a cutie but a toughie too. She likes to go fishing but she’ll paint her fingernails and put on makeup, too.”

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