Monday, October 6, 2014

The grass is always greener at SLCC because of Philip Paro

Maybe it was the green manicured grass of Fenway Park that Philip Paro saw while growing up in Massachusetts that seeped into his subconscious, pushing him down a career path that led him to become grounds manager for Salt Lake Community College.

After 23 years at the College, Paro has a pretty good handle on keeping 60 acres looking good while being particularly proud of the baseball and softball diamonds.

“We take a very big interest in the sports fields and put a lot of effort into that,” Paro said. “Other teams comment on how good the fields look and are to play on.”

He has a Red Sox pennant on the wall of his office, where you’ll also find a coffee mug that professes his love for the team.

“It’s kind of an obsession,” he said. “Although, they’re not doing so good this year.”

Any other hobbies or interests?

“I like to work in the yard,” Paro laughs, recognizing the irony of his reply. “It’s a small yard.”

But it’s no small task keeping seven campuses looking neat, trim and tidy year round. Each season presents its problems.

In April 2013 the North Jordan Canal breached its earthen banks, flooding several homes in a Murray neighborhood. Paro was watching the news on TV when he heard about it. The Taylorsville Redwood Campus relies on that canal for its irrigation water.

Paro sprang into action, making sure the campus’ now nonexistent secondary water supply was turned over to culinary – and then monitored 24-hours a day, 7 days a week, to keep things in Taylorsville looking green for the time that it took crews to repair the canal breach.

Paro gets called out at all hours, like in winter when it snows late at night. It’s not uncommon to find him behind the wheel of a snowplow, clearing the way for students, staff and faculty arriving in the morning. These days he supervises 11 people who help him take care of SLCC’s grounds.

“I take pride in working to keep the campuses the best looking in the state,” he said. “It’s a lot of work. You have to make sure things look good, because it attracts a lot of people. The first impression makes a big difference in making a decision to come to this school. That’s what we strive for. And it’s not just me, it’s teamwork.”

After working more than two decades at the job, Paro has racked up a little vacation time, which he and his wife, Sharon, of 24 years like to spend traveling, sometimes back East and home and others like the more recent trip to El Salvador.

In January of this year the Paros and friends in their church, the Salt Lake Christian Center, visited the Central American country on what he called a “spiritual mission.” They prayed with sick people and donated money toward causes that they saw in person.

“We are really lucky here in the United States, and we don’t realize it,” Paro said. “The culture shock is amazing. It’s a lot of poverty.”

Yet he noticed and took away from the trip a lot more than that.

“The people are very open, loving, caring, friendly,” he said, adding how they’re into security (evidenced by razor wire “everywhere”) and how they graciously open their homes. And he, not surprisingly, noticed, “They have nice plants.”