Work Day is one of the many things that make Warren Wilson just a little different from most colleges. It’s a day when the College’s work program – important throughout the year – takes center stage. Dean of Work Ian Robertson describes Work Day as “playful and purposeful – like the Fourth of July in April. It’s the collective story of celebrating community with sweat equity.”
No classes are scheduled on Work Day, so that all students can spend the morning on their regular work crews. After lunch, the campus community (students, faculty and staff alike) fans out across the 1,100-acre campus to work on outdoor projects. Instead of federal stimulus money, the shovel-ready projects on campus had been chosen by the Work Day Committee to receive a major labor stimulus.
Work Day, it should be noted, is a Warren Wilson rite of spring that doesn’t always bring the weather of spring. Although it’s not unusual for temperatures to climb well into the 70s on Work Day, early April can be cold and wet in the North Carolina mountains. This year, Work Day began below freezing with a frosting of snow on the ground. Fortunately, plenty of sunshine pushed temperatures well into the 50s by the afternoon, even as the lofty Great Craggy and Swannanoa ranges framing the campus remained snow-capped.
The day’s snowy start didn’t deter a large crowd of students, faculty and staff from gathering outside Gladfelter Student Center about 12:30. The throng even included a few future Warren Wilson students – transfer students planning to enroll this fall who were just visiting campus. Apparently they just couldn’t wait till next spring to get their first taste of Work Day.
Many current first-year students also were experiencing their first Work Day, just as a number of seniors were engaged in their final one before graduating. First-year staff such as Julie Wilson (Writing Center), Leah McCullough (Spiritual Life) and Ally Donlan (Advancement) also were involved in their first Work Day, toiling alongside many grizzled – OK, experienced – Work Day veterans among the faculty and staff joining in.
The first order of business, as orchestrated by Robertson, was to herd the workers to the grassy bank below Gladfelter for another Work Day ritual: a group photo shoot by panoramic photographer Benjamin Porter. Soon, however, Robertson was back on his bullhorn calling out descriptions of the 27 projects and asking volunteers to come forward and go forth. He began with a project that’s always on the Work Day to-do list: Warren Wilson Cemetery cleanup and maintenance, a project Robertson couldn’t resist observing “that everyone is dying to work on.”
It didn’t take long for the project crews to scatter to various parts of campus, from the cemetery on the western edge to the Village residence halls on the northern tip. The largest number could be found removing invasive plants on Suicide Ridge, above the soccer fields. Below the fields, in a steep ravine, a group not only removed invasives but also planted trees.
Swannanoa River cleanup, a typical Work Day project, invariably yields some interesting treasures but this year’s major haul was truly exceptional: a large fuel-oil tank that may have been a vestige of the major floods of 2004. Moving the tank to a point where it could be hauled off was no easy (or safe) task.
Not all the work on Work Day is done on campus, however. BK Segall’s library crew, for example, gathered early in the day to depart on a service project at Animal Haven, an animal shelter and rehabilitation center not far from campus. By the afternoon, BK and some of her regular crew members were planting native grasses at the Village.
Music is always part of Work Day, and not just the live music at the picnic at Morris’ Community Pavilion capping the day. Some project crews bring a radio or recorded music; others belt out their own impromptu songs. Oldies fans were in business on the Jensen Trail – where mulching was the task at hand – when The Foundations’ “Build Me Up Buttercup” was earnestly sung. Later, the music at the picnic provided by the student-staff band Bluegrass Wednesdays was a huge hit.
At day’s end, with all the shovels and gloves put away, the 1,100-acre campus Time magazine has labeled “one of the 20 most beautiful campuses in the country” was even more beautiful than before. And that’s one reason why Work Day is always one of the most anticipated days of the year at Warren Wilson.
See more images from Work Day 2009
Pictures courtesy Sloan Poe '03 and words by Ben Anderson