Though his daily duties change with the seasons, one element remains constant for Director of Landscaping Services, Jim Coffey – he’s always busy. Coffey, who celebrates his 25th year with the university this year, has assembled a stellar team of landscaping gurus over the years. Together, they’ve guided the university’s evolution into the park-like landscape so frequently cited by prospective students as a selling point for Wake Forest.
“Each spring I walk around campus and get goose bumps because I can see how the landscape has changed,” Coffey said.
Coffey’s appreciation for the natural environment was instilled in him at a young age by grandparents who loved gardening. As he grew, so did his love of landscaping. Twenty-five years ago, just three years after graduating with a bachelor of science in agriculture, Coffey joined the university’s landscaping team in their former offices – an old barn with a wood stove and no bathrooms.
He stuck with the rugged conditions and early hours (during the summers, the crews may arrive before 6 a.m. to beat the Carolina heat) and became instrumental not only in the continuing growth of the university’s landscape, but in the fledgling sustainability movement as well.
When the university began its recycling efforts in 1990, Coffey worked with students to manage the new program. Two decades later, the university diverts over 30 percent of its waste from landfills and has hired a Waste Reduction and Recycling Manager to work on the program full-time.
In addition to serving as the long-standing staff advisor for SEAC, the student environmental action group on campus, Coffey takes great pride in the Adopt an Area program on campus. Coffey worked with leaders of various Greek organizations on campus to arrange a campus adoption and clean-up program. Each spring and fall, members of these organizations turn out to beautify the campus, alongside landscaping staff.
When he’s not actively working toward a more sustainable future with the university’s students, Coffey dons different caps to perform a dizzying array of administrative and managerial tasks including administrating intra-campus moves and many aspects of special events on campus. His work may also take him to Graylyn, a university rental property, or even the President’s House.
Though Coffey cites variety as one of his favorite aspects of his job, the joy of planting remains close to his heart. Many of his most cherished accomplishments have involved national media attention for the university’s meticulously cared for grounds. In addition to high-profile exposure during the Presidential debates in 1988 and 2000, the team received the Professional Grounds Management Society and Landscape Management Magazine’s 2004 “Grand Award.”
Summarizing Coffey’s approach to working with the natural beauty that makes the Wake Forest campus so unique, he said “We see ourselves as artists — we add a little more paint to the canvas each year.”
By Caitlin Brooks, Communications and Outreach Intern