Jeff McManus: Turning weeders into leaders

Olivia Morgan

Many times, when you ask an Ole Miss student or alumni what led them to choose this university, their answer will be that they fell in love with the scenery. The man behind the bushes of what the Princeton Review named their “Most Beautiful Campus” is director of landscaping services, Jeff McManus.

McManus has his roots in Douglasville, Georgia, and is an alumnus of Auburn University. After graduation, he worked in resort landscaping in Orlando and Miami before transplanting to the University of Mississippi in 2000.

“Ole Miss is a very unique higher education experience for young men and women to cultivate their greatness and to do greater things than they ever imagined,” McManus said.

The landscaping department employs a full-time staff of 33 people to manage more 18,915 square feet of flower beds and upwards of 5,000 trees. He credits the ability to maintain such a large space with so few people to the motivation and work ethic of his staff, but McManus is only reaping what he has sewn.

Beyond managing the Ole Miss campus, airport and golf course, McManus is into growing people.

For the past 15 years, McManus has been enriching motivation in his employees.

“We cultivate greatness every day outside, but we also try to do it by encouraging, growing and developing with one another, also individually in our own hearts,” he said.

Landscaping department employees must complete several hours of training in plant identification and safety.

“A man or woman working with us automatically brings their hands,” he said. “I immediately want to capture their mind and get them thinking about growing plants, but if I can capture their heart, that’s what I want.”

Along with planting seasonal flowers and replacing trees, the landscaping department is dedicated to keeping a clean campus.

Campus landscaping is also responsible for maintaining a clean Grove.

Campus landscaping is also responsible for maintaining a clean Grove.

This was once a towering feat for the department, considering the aftermath of the weekly party in the Grove during football season. McManus fixed this by reaching out to local nonprofit groups, such as the Baptist Student Union, looking to log service hours.

“For the Alabama game last year, we had close to 200 volunteers that cleaned 90 tons of garbage out of the Grove in three hours,” he said.

McManus believes  a well designed landscaping concept that is orderly and well kept provides a great service to the university.

“We know from other studies that green space is very therapeutic,” he said. “People want to be in a peaceful outdoor environment and enjoy that.”

Students can play a role in campus beautification as well. McManus says being mindful of what’s in your hands and making sure it doesn’t end up on the ground helps with the overall appearance of the campus.

“I like to see students that know that it’s not their litter, but still pick it up,” he said. “That shows a lot of leadership. I can just about guarantee those people will be hugely successful in life.”

McManus has big plans for the ever-expanding Ole Miss campus.

“Since there has been an increase in enrollment, we are always decorating new buildings, like the dorms and the pavilion,” he said.

Outside of work, McManus’ passion is his family and speaking to groups about leadership.

“I love the idea of getting people out of the weeds to lead,” he said.

McManus was the featured speaker for the Ole Miss Women’s Council Scholars at one of their monthly dinners. Sophomore scholar Hadassah Strong attended and said it inspired her to lead in her own life.

“He made me feel like hard work pays off, and that I can work to achieve anything,” Strong said.

McManus also enjoys replanting trees across the campus.

“With the expansion we’re having on campus, we have to take down a lot of trees to build new dorms and such, but we always get to put up new trees,” he said.

As the university continues to receive awards for it’s beauty, McManus continues to fertilize the minds of others and grow the Ole Miss community.

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