Winter Warriors

VPA Behind the Scenes

We all know that magical feeling of the first snowfall. Glittering snowflakes drifting through the air, fields of white, and mugs full of hot cocoa. But we also all know that winter has a dark side.After about three days of snowmen, sledding, and snowball fights, that beautiful pure white snow has turned into gray slush. The days are getting shorter and the nights are getting longer. Dragging yourself out of bed in the morning gets that much harder. And then – just when you wonder how long it’ll be until you see daylight again – twinkling lights start going up around the city, the snow-covered streets are cleared throughout the night, and the city heads to work.

Have you ever wondered about the people who bring light to the city in the darkest of months? From the festive lights to plowing snow in the dead of night, Venues Parks & Arts staff is out there every day.

One of the most necessary tasks to keep the city running in the winter months is snow clearing. As long as there’s snow on the ground, Facilities and Grounds staff will clock in.

“Some winters are good, some winters are bad,” said Jim Byers, Grounds Operations Manager. Byers, who has been with Facilities & Grounds for over 40 years, remembers the blizzard of 1978 where 19.5 inches of snow fell on South Bend. “The most gratifying thing about my job is seeing how much we can accomplish and how much snow we can clear,” he said.

When the clock strikes 3 a.m., you can find twenty Facilities & Ground workers pulling up in Bobcats all around the city. By the time the city wakes up, they’ve plowed, blown, and shoveled the most trafficked areas of South Bend. The entire city takes some time, especially navigating around benches, bike racks, and planters, but their goal is to haul the snow out within 24 hours.

“It takes dedication and a lot of experience,” Byers emphasized. Between working 12-hour days, weekends, and holidays, they make sure the roads and sidewalks are ready for you to get out and around the city.  Even under several inches of snow, South Bend doesn’t stop.

Among Facilities & Grounds, you may also bump into a smiling face in a red shirt while you’re out. A kind of jack-of-all-trades, the ambassadors work 24/7 to provide safety, event assistance, hospitality, and seasonal decorations to make South Bend more inviting.

“I like to see people smile,” Downtown Team Lead Ambassador Darrell Pargo beamed, “People see our passion, that it’s not all about work.”

From placing mini Christmas trees in sidewalk planters to lights strung around downtown, the ambassadors work every day to make South Bend a welcoming city. Even though the cold may not always be appealing, VPA staff keeps the city exciting, inviting, and festive.

Speaking of festive, if you’ve been around for a South Bend winter, you’ve probably noticed the giant Christmas tree that goes up on Jon Hunt Plaza in front of the Morris. Arborists with the Forestry Department spend a day to string the tree top-to-bottom with over 13,000 glittering lights.

It’s easy to get caught up trudging through the deep snow and maneuvering through the slush. This winter, perhaps you’ll look up and notice the thousands of tiny lights lighting up the sky or the freshly cleared roads as you drive to grab that early morning coffee. It’s moments like this that Facilities & Grounds, Forestry, Ambassadors and countless others strive for – a more livable and lovable South Bend.