Story by Jessica Spoor
The alarm clock sounds, and many are off to work with the sun having already risen. But just before dawn when the sky is still dark and the streets are quiet, there’s work already being done: sidewalks are being swept, the stage is being set and the hum of a mower can be heard in the distance, cutting fairways to perfection.
It may sound simple, but these behind-the-scenes jobs are critical to keeping our places and spaces looking beautiful and operating smoothly. They fly under the radar acting as the front lines of our courses, parks and venues. I sat down with a few of our own as they continue to create a sense of beauty day in and day out.
Seyhan Kilic, Event Technician for the Morris Performing Arts Center
When I arrive at the Morris Performing Arts Center on a Tuesday morning, there’s a semi just outside the front under the marquee, unloading road cases of merchandise for a two-night run of the popular kids show: Trolls Live! In a few short hours, the sidewalks will fill with eager kids, ready to make their first memories at the theater.
Over the years, The Morris has seen a variety of shows on its historic stage from comedic stars to music legends, with sell out crowds (2,564 to be exact) and worldwide recognition in Pollstar Magazine. I’ve been in one of those seats and can speak to the magical space the Morris can be on a show night.
As I make my way backstage to meet with Seyhan Kilic, Event Technician for the Morris, I feel out of place and quite frankly, in the way. The rush of a load-in is seen beyond the stage curtain and it’s almost as if the first act of a show has already begun. There’s a seamless dance the stagehands routinely execute as they maneuver around in their unofficial uniform – a sea of black.
“Sorry it’s a little crazy back here,” Kilic said, in her cool, calm, and collected demeanor. Show day or not, she exudes zero signs of stress. Answering three phone calls in the first few minutes, I can barely keep up with her as she power-walks through many corridors I didn’t know existed deep beneath the Morris main floor.
We finally make our way to her office, a shared space suspended above the backstage dock area overlooking the controlled chaos. Kilic is one of three full-timers that work behind-the-scenes, all having important roles in the care and maintenance of the building.
Celebrating its 100th birthday this year, the Morris Performing Arts Center has seen its fair share of struggles with deteriorating infrastructure, most of which are typical with a 100-year old building. It’s soon to see upgrades with the Morris 100 Capital Campaign raising over $30M for upgrades and additions. Nonetheless Kilic wears many hats, as technical point-of-contact on a show day to tending to the underground sewage pipes during a backup. There isn’t a thing Kilic wouldn’t do to keep the Morris looking its best.
“There’s always something to be done, especially on a non-show day,” Kilic said. “It’s an old building, so there’s always something we need to stay on top of. I don’t mind any of it, it keeps the job interesting.”
Beyond the confines of the main level is a lower basement that I could easily get lost in. It winds around with white cement block hallways and various unmarked doors, each having an important purpose to the functionality of the theater.
“There’s a lot of dirty jobs…but this can get pretty bad.”
She’s referring to the water pipes and sewage pumps that wind their way in a small, dark room. Despite describing the overflows that can occur, and having to clean, sanitize and bleach mop the floor, she doesn’t flinch.
“It’s not too bad,” she said, smiling.
It takes a passionate person to take on these kinds of jobs. After spending 30 years in community theater, Kilic found her home at the Morris and never looked back.
“It was complete fate and I’ve loved every minute of being here. It’s literally my dream job.”
Adam Oltman, Superintendent of Erskine & Studebaker Park Golf Courses
Just before the warm air fills the senses of golfers around the city, urging them to tee up for the first time in months, the greens are recovering from another brisk South Bend winter. There’s a team of two full-time staff managing 6,100 yards of green space within the course, year-round.
The sun has already begun to rise and the final layer of snow has (finally) just melted on the course when I meet with Adam Oltman, Superintendent of Erskine and Studebaker Park Golf Courses. His office is housed in the Maintenance building just behind the 5th hole and is what I’d imagined. A faint smell of gasoline and grass lingers as I enter the space, various machines are lined up and ready to work. Oil stains the floor and tools line a full wall of the mechanics area, a mower on the lift ready for a tune-up.
For Oltman, there are two seasons of dirty – greasy and grassy.
During the winter season, Oltman has been assisting in mechanic duties of each machine and tractor used through the golf season. He and the mechanic work to get everything tuned up, pressure washed, and ready. But once that snow melts, Oltman is eager to care for his pristine greens. He has overseen them since 2014, year after year seeing the fruits of his labor continue to thrive and blossom into talked-about fairways.
Gearing up for a busy spring and summer, quite possibly busier than the record-breaking 2021 season at Erskine, Oltman’s routine is less than typical. Grasses are cut, fertilizers are laid, and hole locations are moved. There’s something new to do every day, and it’s one of the many reasons why Oltman loves the job.
“In the spring, there’s a lot of blowing and raking sticks and whatever came down in the winter to clean up. It can get dirty with the wet leaves. We’re up before daybreak around 5, jump on the mower and change the flags before anyone beats us out here,” he said.
I may not be privy to the needs of course maintenance, but I do know creating greens to be that perfect shade of green and length require a keen understanding. Oltman started in the industry doing part time work and self-taught his way to Superintendent.
“It’s always different every day,” he said. “What we do here, they may do different at another course.”
One may think golf courses are known for their commitment to trade-secrets, but I learn it’s quite the opposite.
“Regardless of the course we work for, I’ll call them up and talk about fertilizers or ask for other tips,” he said. “We’ve let others borrow equipment when theirs has gone down. We’re like a big family.
In addition to his duties at Erskine, Oltman also cares for the historic 9-hole Studebaker Golf Course, a community course known for its program with The First Tee. The golf courses have all seen an uptick in visitors, with a record-breaking 2021 season. There may not be one contributing factor the success of the courses, but it’s safe to say the love they receive is most certainly far above par for the course.
Darrell Pargo, Group Leader at Howard Park
If you’ve spent any time in Howard Park, it’s quite possible you’ve seen Darrell Pargo zip around in the Toolcat collecting trash and picking up debris among the large open green space on a summer day. The Group Leader at Howard has the daily, grueling task of maintaining the 13-acres of public greenspace at the most highly trafficked park in South Bend.
“My goal is to make every day look like a grand opening, so people continue to come around and feel invited,” he said. “Everyone should feel important when they come here, because everyone is important.”
I’ve known Darrell for many years, first when he was with Downtown South Bend, Inc. before taking on the lead at Howard Park. Regardless of how long you’ve known him, it’s easy to feel his passion for the community. He’s one of the most humble people you’ll ever meet, never once complaining about the job at hand. He takes great pride in his work and when complimented, shies away from taking on the credit himself.
“Without a team, we have nothing and I’m proud of our team…it keeps me coming back every single day. All of us are working for one common cause – and that’s to make the community happy and safe and that I what makes the difference,” he said.
On any given day, the park can see upwards of thousands of visitors enjoying a special event, the four-season playground, a fitness class on the event lawn or a quick jog through the park. The influx of visitors in the season can create quite the dirty job for Pargo.
“I’ve seen a lot at this park. Sometimes there are homeless taking refuge, sometimes there’s a situation where someone tries to do destroy what we have going on here,” he said. “But sometimes the job gets so good that someone has to tell me to take my lunch break. I have a passion for cleanliness and making this place the best that it can be.”
The next time I see him, he’s stopped saying a polite hello to a couple walking through the park. His smile is genuine and contagious and it’s people like this that make our parks special places to visit.
“I love the public. I love being in it. I love breathing this natural fresh air and seeing people here. It’s all right here.”
Read more in the Spring/Summer Spark Magazine here.