I’m willing to bet what first attracted a number of students to St. Thomas was the look and feel of the university: its manicured grounds, colorful flowers – 20,000 to 25,000 of them get planted every year – and stately campus. This week, a man responsible for many things green and growing for 32 years is leaving.
Steve Trost, the greenhouse manager, will spend his final day on the job Wednesday, Sept. 19. At the age of 58, he is officially in the ranks of the disabled. A degenerative eye disease, retinitis pigmentosa, has claimed most of his sight.
“The truth is – and I’ve known this for some time – I can only distinguish cloudy shapes,” Trost said. “I’ve been bumping into more things, and last January walked into a wall and broke my nose. As much as I hate to admit it, it’s time.”
What makes leaving difficult is that, quite simply, Trost loves this university. And everything about it.
“I know the place isn’t perfect,” he said, “but it’s been perfect for me. The students always keep me young. I love having lunch with the staff: you know, making small talk and telling stories. And I love working with the Biology Department staff and students.”
A few years ago, Trost set up a program where biology majors would go to St. Mark’s Elementary School once a week to talk with seventh graders about flora and fauna.
For 30 of his 32 years, in addition to overseeing the greenhouse, Trost was planting, pruning, weeding and watering. One of his most elaborate projects was a floral logo of St. Thomas (at Cleveland and Portland) – complete with the chalice. He planted the bottom with dusty miller, the flames in begonias and the borders in purple petunias; each year, he changed the date.
In 2000, Trost’s daughter, Jennifer, graduated from St. Thomas with a sociology major. She is pursuing a Ph.D. in education at the University of Minnesota, while she and her husband raise two children. His son, Bryan, is married with a 1-year-old son and works as brewmaster at Lift Bridge Brewery in Stillwater.
“St. Thomas is a good learning environment,” Trost said. “Students understand St. Thomas is a place where people care for each other. It’s a spiritual place. I spent many a day listening to someone practice the organ in the chapel as I tended to the flowers beds outside.”
He’s not planning to lose touch with the place or its people. He annually goes on spring adventure trips that include Ron Riley and Dave Hanson from IRT and Roger Rich, the retired supervisor of photography who spent 37 years and took 350,000 pictures here. This June, the group took a canoe trip on the Missouri River in Montana.
“Steve carries his own load,” Riley said. “We do point out when we are at interesting sites but he asks for very little. He is extremely stubborn about being independent. He shares all the chores: cooking, packing, cleaning and, of course, paddling.
“He truly blends in with this motley crew. I think if someone were watching the group for the first time, he’d have a tough time telling who had the vision problem.”
In the months ahead, Trost will take some white cane training, learning to navigate by feel as much as by sight. He and wife, Nancy, will also spend more time together – and with the grandchildren. They’re planning a trip to Oregon next year.
When Trost does come back for lunch, the table in the Anderson Student Center will still have a “family” feeling. His sister, Lisa Dochniak of Library Operations, has been at St. Thomas for 31 years.