Have you ever noticed the classy pruning job on the stand of giant bird of paradise in the Ellison courtyard? How about the removal of the overgrown grape ivy and the new xeriscaping plants recently put in—not to mention the weeding of the cracks in the paving, the mulching of the flower beds, and the removal of trash? Well, a staff member of the UCSB Grounds Department named Emmer Ruano gets most of the credit for these serious improvements of the grounds adjacent to the Department of Geography. The UCSB Grounds Department is responsible for 800 acres of landscape and hardscape, irrigation (93% of which is now reclamed), erosion control, and integrated pest management. The campus is divided into 4 zones, and Emmer is in charge of Zone 2 which encompasses an area stretching from Phelps and Buchanan to Campbell and North Halls. Grounds staff start at 4 a.m. and do the majority of their work prior to the arrival of most university employees and students. Emmer has seen great horned owls flying in at dawn to roost in the Ellison courtyard pine trees, has had more than his fair share of opossums and skunks, and says that the campus is “like Disneyland for raccoons” at that hour.
Actually, one reason for the removal of the ivy in the Ellison courtyard was the infestation of rats as well as concerns about potential damage due to rats getting into the walls and chewing on Ellison’s electrical wiring. On his own initiative, Emmer removed the ivy and replanted the area with plant species that don’t provide habitat/hiding spaces for the rats. Mo Lovegreen, Geography’s Executive Officer who is responsible for short- and long-term planning, financial, and space resources for the Department of Geography is particularly delighted with the difference Emmer has made to the Ellison courtyard: “Emmer is amazing. He takes enormous pride in his work, and the entire campus community benefits from it. Emmer always maintains a positive attitude and is extremely resourceful. Faced with the budget shortfall, he took cuttings from other plants around campus and populated the courtyard area with them. Emmer’s idea was to have a color pallet that we could all enjoy that would include orange and yellow flowers along with various shades and textures of green foliage. He has really lit up the place and made it more enjoyable.” (Editor's note: Emmer told me that he promised Mo that she would be "like a princess in a field of flowers" when he was done planting the courtyard.)
Emmer was born in Guatemala where his parents owned a ranch near Lake Atitlan in the Guatemalan Highlands. He received a BS in accounting and worked as the manager of a chain of restaurants called Pollo Campero before immigrating to the US where he met his wife María, originally from Honduras. They live in Lompoc and have three children: Emmer Isaac Jr. who just graduated from high school and has a football scholarship to Cal Poly; Eric Andres, 16, who “loves to play baseball;” and “my little princess, Nathalie Lizeth, 4 years old.” Emmer’s wife María has worked for the Santa Barbara Public Health Department for the past 19 years and is also the pastor of the Church of God in Santa Maria.
Not surprisingly, Emmer won second place for the Most Beautiful Garden in Lompoc two years ago – and he’s aiming for first place this year. He owns a boat which he often uses at Nacimiento Lake and Lake San Antonio, he built his own aviary, and he enjoys biking and horse riding (his horse is named Grano de Oro – “Piece of Gold”).
Emmer has been a UCSB Grounds staff member for 8 years, and he’s made a big difference when it comes to Geography’s physical presentation—which is a major consideration in terms of how a visitor “sees” the Department of Geography and the UCSB campus in general. So, thanks to Emmer, groundsman extraordinaire, for all of his hard work, his resourcefulness, his cheery attitude, and his commitment to both the grounds of and the folks in Geography!
Article by Bill Norrington