Spring soon will erupt on the east campus of the University of Colorado Boulder, bringing branches laden with greenery, colorful blossoms and fragrant grasses, but something will be missing.
The junipers won't test Hilda Brehm anymore. Her special garden no longer will benefit from her green thumb. After 30 years of working at the university – 20 as a groundskeeper – Brehm hung up her shears and gloves on Monday, Feb. 28.
Though her hard work sometimes went unnoticed, commented an employee at the Assessment and Research Building, in the area where Brehm manages the landscaping, she loved her job, was kind to everyone and was extremely proud of her connection to the university.
Brehm came to the university in 1981 after her sisters encouraged her to move from her home in Chihauhau, Mexico, and follow them to the United States. At first it was hard to live in a new country – she said teasingly that it took her two years to say "hi" to anyone – but soon she came to love her new surroundings. In 1991, she said, she was lucky enough to begin work in the grounds department where she could spend her time outside taking care of flowers for people to enjoy. It truly became a labor of love, even after long days in the red-hot sun.
— Cynthia Pasquale
1. What is your favorite part of the job? What is the hardest part of the job?
My favorite part is playing with the flowers and being outside all day. I love being outside; I can't picture myself being inside for more than two hours. Sometimes I'll visit people in their offices, but for me, the outside is my office where I'm surrounded by the beautiful mountains and trees.
The lilies and roses are my favorite flowers. Roses fill up my heart. They are beautiful and tender and smell so nice. We don't have a lot of money to buy flowers, so sometimes I cut little pieces off plants then grow them in my special garden on campus.
Some seasons, the junipers make me really sick. I have a love-hate relationship with them. I keep cutting and cutting them; sometimes they win, but sometimes I win and make them really beautiful.
The hardest part is sometimes in the winter when the temperatures go below zero and the snow feels heavy, but that season doesn't last long and I can return to being the happiest groundskeeper on the planet.
Especially in the flowering season, every day is special. Sometimes I'll see a person looking a little sad. After so many years, you know everyone's face. So on those unhappy days, I put a few flowers together for them and try to make them happier. It's a beautiful thing to be able to make someone feel happy.
2. What is an accomplishment you are most proud of?
My two boys, David, 26, and Karl, 19, and, of course, my 30 years at CU is a big thing. Now I can retire at age 55.
3. What will you miss most about the university and your job?
There are so many beautiful faces and people in this place. I'll miss being outside the whole day and the people I know. Everyone is so kind. On the cold and snowy days, people would invite me into their offices for a cup of coffee or bring me a cup outside. It's the little human things I'll miss most.
4. Do you have a motto that you live by?
When you have something to do, you can choose to have a long face or you can choose to do it in a happy way. I choose to do it with happiness.
5. What are your plans after retirement?
The first thing I will do is to continue to enjoy life and be happy. I'm planning a trip to Alaska with my two boys. But really, I need to be retired before I start thinking about what I want to do next.
I went to Alaska more than a year ago, and everything there is so beautiful, it feels like you are close to God. So when the boys suggested we go together, I said yes. I've been to Spain and Italy, but Alaska is my favorite.
I'll also do some volunteer work for the Red Cross. I feel that it's the right thing to do because they once helped me.
And I like to go camping and fishing – walleye are so good when they are fresh – and spend lots of time in the mountains and with my boys.