August 7, 2000
Volume 52, No. 39
Profile: Jimmy Powell
By Eric Rangus
Often when people visit the Emory campus, one of the first comments out their mouths complements its beauty. Those kudos should be directed to the grounds department. And that department's leader is Jimmy Powell. And his job, if the pun can be excused, is not always a bed of roses.
Powell, a man of easygoing nature possessed of a dry sense of humor, has recently battled ice storms, a massive drought, wretched heat and will soon be buried under a mountain of autumnal leaves.
"Believe it or not," said Powell about dealing with drought, "it's not that difficult. Where we have automated irrigation systems, we can easily program them to operate within the hours of water restrictions and still be able to provide ample water for those landscapes."
Powell and his 37-member department is never at a loss for activity. "In the summer, we're in a general landscape maintenance mode, keeping the flowers looking good, trying to keep the turf and trees alive," he said. "Fall is actually our busiest time because that's when we change out the flower beds from summer annuals to fall pansies and underplant the pansy beds with tulips. All that is followed by leaf removal."
The grounds department is the unit of Facilities Manage-ment that offers landscape services for the main campus and its satellites (the clinic, the hospital, Wesley Woods, Crawford Long and Emory West).
No part of the Emory campus is neglected, of course, but some areas receive specific attention. Powell knows that the grounds department, in a way, is a very important University ambassador.
"We take special pride in the [Haygood-Hopkins] gate since that is the entrance for visitors and prospective faculty and students," he said. "We feel like [during] the first five minutes that a visitor is on campus, particularly a prospective student, they're going to drive through that front gate, they're going to go to the B. Jones Building, they'll come across the street to the Administration Building, and walk the Quad. We try to make that area as eye-appealing as possible to set the table.
"I have a wonderful staff. They are knowledgeable, dedicated and hard-working, and it's not easy doing this kind of work," Powell continued. "Everybody wants to come plant flowers in the spring or the fall, but nobody wants to mow the grass in July or clear ice in January."
A native Atlantan, Powell grew up less than a mile from campus and even attended Glenn Memorial Church School kindergarten. He graduated from Druid Hills High School, then the University of Georgia, where he majored in horticulture. After working for 16 years in the landscape contracting and wholesale nursery industries, Powell came to Emory in 1997.
Married with two young boys, Powell has those previous positions to thank for meeting his wife, Odette-a story he recalls humorously.
While working with landscape contractor SKB Industries he hired Odette (a native of New Orleans who earned her bachelor's in horticulture at Louisiana State) as his assistant. Things progressed from there, sort of.
"We did not date while we worked together," Powell said. "Then I accepted a position at Shemin Nurseries, and she was promoted to my former position, so we started dating and the rest is history. It was against my principles to date her, not company policy."
Trees have long held Powell's interest. In the early 1980s, he helped Trees Atlanta with some of its original survey work. Alas, the area he surveyed-Marietta Street between Five Points and Coca-Cola headquarters-is now Centennial Olympic Park.
Powell also is at the forefront of the Friends of Emory Forest, a campus group dedicated to supporting reforestation and maintaining and enhancing Emory's natural environment.
"In general, the Emory community values trees greatly," he said. "It's important to realize that the trees are a renewable resource, and the primary mission of Friends of the Emory Forest is to plant native trees to sustain the native forests around Emory."
Powell, in fact, was the person who helped plant the idea for the organization. It happened through a chance meeting with JoAn Chace, FOEF vice president.
"I wrestled with this idea for about a year," Powell said. "I was new to Emory, but I recognized the need for it because I didn't have ample funds through the maintenance operating budget to do the type of tree planting I felt was needed."
Powell knew he'd need to meet a powerful benefactor to get his idea rolling. He was at the Lullwater Estate preparing for a special event, and he happened to catch Chace in the kitchen. He bent her ear, told her of his idea and she ran with it.
FOEF was established last fall and is progressing steadily. It now has a website (emoryforest.emory.edu) and will soon release an official mission statement and unveil its specific plans this fall. "I planted the seed, but Dr. Chace has really carried the torch."
Powell remains heavily involved. He sits on its 18-member board of directors and is a member of its project development committee.
"One of the great things about Emory," he said, "is that you can have a good idea and see people rally around it and bring it to fruition."
Another way Powell gets outside is through golf. "Wherever I go, with regard to landscapes, I'm very observant of my surroundings," he said. "And that's one of the reasons why I enjoy golf so much. Another reason is that I can enjoy the golf course and know that I don't have to take care of it."
He runs the Emory Summer Golf League, now in its third summer. The 12-to-15 weekly participants come from mainly FM and Campus Life, but several other areas of the University are represented and any Emory employee, regardless of experience, can play.
The noncompetitive league plays Thursday afternoons at The Trophy Club
just outside Snellville, and greens fees-with cart-are $25. Interested players
are invited to call Powell at 404-727-0230.