10 Questions with Cecelia Gonzales

Photo by Becca Stine

Cecelia Gonzales, Colorado College’s only horticulturist, was born and raised in Trinidad, Co. and came to Colorado Springs, in 1974. She attended the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs, where she earned degrees in both psychology and philosophy, and fell in love with gardening. Cecelia turns 61 in May and came to Colorado College in August of 1995. This coming August will mark her 22nd year of working with gardens and landscaping to make our campus the beautiful place that is it. 

The Catalyst: What is your favorite plant/flower?

Cecilia Gonzales: I’d have to say the Magnolia trees at the Tutt house. It’s actually a shrub. They’re fairly hard to grow in Colorado, but there’s a couple of varieties that will grow here. They just got through blooming and the cold snap came, but there’s some buds, there’s still a little hope that we might get some blooms out of them.

TC: What is your favorite spot to work around campus?

CG: Oh, everywhere, everywhere is my favorite spot. I don’t know if I actually have a favorite spot. I’d say top one would probably be over here on the east [side of] campus, working on some of the gardens that we’ve installed, making sure that they’re doing good. And then I guess my second would be . . . there are so many . . . I would have to say my second favorite is maybe the Japanese garden because it was a lot of fun installing and bringing in a master gardener from Japan to do that [in 2002]. Even though he didn’t speak English, he had a translator with him—a student gardener—for about the first two weeks and then he left, but after that I was on my own with him, but we understood each other. It was really cool.

TC: What is the hardest part about working at Colorado College?

CG: Snow removal. I hate snow removal because we get called up very early in the morning, like 4:30 in the morning, and we have to get in and make sure that campus is clear for students and everybody else that’s here. We have a zero tolerance policy with snow removal. On snow removal, pretty much everyone is on call. The city sidewalks have to be cleared, a lot of the interior of campus to all the buildings are clear, the steps, parking lots are cleared so that its safe for people when they get out of their vehicles. We have, I believe, 15 full-time employees. We have people that drive snowplows, and then we have shovelers. I drive a John Deer snowplow, I actually clear all of this [part of] east campus. The snowplows get called in first because it gives us time so that when the shovelers come we don’t collide with each other, and we don’t push snow back into what they have shoveled. It’s the worst part of my job; I love the rest of it.

TC: What does it mean to you to work at Colorado College?

CG: Gratification. Being able to please people with building gardens and having student involvement, and having students come back years later and say, “Hey, I remember when we did this.” I get a lot of gratification out of what I do.

TC: When you were little what did you grow up wishing to do or achieve?

CG: I was going to be a lawyer; I wanted to be a lawyer. I went through college, I also thought I might go into some type of medical field or something, but I decided that being a lawyer wasn’t who I was because I just couldn’t be that kind of person. While I was going through college I started gardening and things like that and that just stuck with me, so here I am; Still here doing the same thing. It was part time work to help me get through school. I started off [studying] Environmental Biology up at UCCS, and I was in my sophomore year and they only had one professor teaching that. Well, he passed away, and they had to drop the whole course. They said, “Well you can either change your major, or you can go to another school,” and going to another school then was going to Fort Collins [CSU], and I didn’t want to move to Fort Collins, so I changed my major. I have a degree in psychology, and a degree in philosophy. So I talk to my plants and I know how they feel.

TC: What is your opinion on the standard of sustainability on campus?

CG: I think that the college is moving in a real good direction right now with sustainability. Ever since they brought Ian Johnson in as the sustainability guy, I think he’s done a lot of wonderful things. I think that being on the Sustainability Council, we fought a lot last year with the improvements of the library, and we wanted zero carbon and other things for the library, and it was going to be a lot more expensive, and we fought, saying that, well, if we spend the money now, we’ll save the money later, and we won that one. I think sometimes that when you have more people that are knowledgeable about it that can make presentations to the president, I think she listens more. I think all around with stuff like the irrigation, and the plants, and the rain roofs, and solar [panels], and all of the things that they’re doing in all of the new buildings, is really good. We’re getting closer.

TC: What has been the most enjoyable project you have been involved in on campus?

CG: I’ve had a lot of fun, but I’d have to say I had a blast last year with the kids over at the New Synergy, when we took everything out and re-did the landscape over there. I think just the camaraderie, and especially the women who showed up to work. It was pretty much, I think a guy would show up every now and then and kind of stand there with a shovel, but the women were the hard workers, and I’m not being sexist here.  There are other projects; like the Cutler project was a lot of fun, but that wasn’t student involvement. Before at Cutler, there was pretty much just asphalt out in the front there, and then they built that little seating wall, and we just built that from nothing.

TC: Are there any future projects you wish to implement on this campus?

CG: I’m working on some projects right now: I’m redesigning the parking lot over at the Spencer center. We were working on a project here on Cache La Poudre, where that old dentist office was, but we ran into some problems so that’s on hold. There were some other projects around Western Ridge where there are all of these overgrown junipers that somebody just decided they were going to plant everywhere. Those projects may be happening in the near future. And we’re doing a new project behind Loomis where there is just a bunch of old river rocks; make it a little seating area with some plantings where people can gather. Those are some of the projects I’ve been working on right now, but they haven’t been implemented yet. I design them, I have a computer program that I’m able to take a photograph and put it into the program and then design how a garden and whatever its going to look like. I’ll do that and then come up with a cost, materials, etc. I throw a whole project together. The past two months my boss asked me to work on four different projects, so I managed to get all four of those out. It’s a lot of work. It’s a lot of work sitting behind a computer, which I don’t really like much, I’d rather be outside. I design and then I do everything, I design it and then I tear it out and install it, so I’m pretty much there from start to finish.

TC:  If you could change one aspect of the campus aesthetically, what would it be?

CG: I think I’d get rid of Armstrong. That is one of the ugliest buildings ever. Packard is probably right next to it. I would get rid of Armstrong definitely, and build another building that fit in with the college—that building doesn’t fit at all. Something that was built out of stone would look really cool.

TC:  What is the biggest change you’ve seen after 22 years of working here?

CG: All the construction over the years. I’ve seen Western Ridge go up, I’ve seen Tutt Science go up, I’ve seen Cornerstone being built, now I’m seeing East Campus being built. So many changes, it’s crazy. Even when they built the Asian Language and the Italian Houses, we had a little Grounds shop over there actually, and then there was that house next to it, where a woman, her name was Mrs. Armstrong, who owned the house, and she finally sold it to the college and that’s when they excavated everything there and started building new houses. The Spanish House, there were some houses there off of Wood Avenue by Western Ridge, Habitat for Humanity donated a house, I saw them move that house. I was there when they moved the sororities over from west campus before they built Western Ridge. I’ve seen a whole lot of change.

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