The SportsTurf Interview: Mike Andresen, CSFM

This month in “The SportsTurf Interview,” we meet Mike Andresen, CSFM, Grounds Maintenance Manager at Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids, IA. If that reads strange it’s because Mike, a former STMA President and long-time member, has to most people always been associated with Iowa State University in Ames, where he was the athletic turf manager and then promoted to facilities and grounds management. “My wife is retired and we wanted to be closer our daughter, who’s a nurse in Iowa City. We are going to miss a ton of friends there but the move will not impair my involvement with sports turf industry, but rather will almost certainly enhance it.”

SportsTurf: I was surprised when Tim Van Loo announced he had a new boss at Iowa State. Tell us about the recent big changes in your life.

Andresen: It was no secret to my boss at Iowa State that I had ambitions to eventually relocate to eastern Iowa should a perfect opportunity present itself. Our daughter is recently engaged and an RN in the bone marrow transplant/cancer unit at University Hospitals in Iowa City. The move was for family reasons and that perfect opportunity presented itself here at Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids. My boss is a very good friend of STMA’s, Troy McQuillen. Troy spent many years teaching horticulture/turfgrass and through the years brought many successful Student Challenge teams to the STMA conference. As was the case at ISU, Troy will be a tremendous resource for me to learn agronomics as well as campus culture and leadership from.

SportsTurf: What are you most looking forward to as you return to spending more time on your fields?

Andresen: Getting back onto sports fields and general campus turf and landscaping has been fun and gratifying. Not many people have found me yet so it has been really nice receiving 8 emails a day rather than 80. Kirkwood rebuilt two competition ball fields and three new soccer fields last year, which I’ve personally spent about an hour on so far. More time will come in due time but we’re blessed to have a veteran crew that shares a unified vision. It recently struck me that I most missed simply interacting every hour of every day with a crew of dedicated grounds department employees. Tim [Van Loo] is such a pro and made my life so pain free in Ames that I’ve been forced to dust off some old skills like prioritizing workload, plant identification, pruning, working on clay areas and so many other things. Years ago I made a comment to someone that I felt like I was born to be a groundskeeper. I loved working facilities and grounds and could have done it for the rest of my career and been very happy. Moving here has reinforced that I live a pretty charmed life.

SportsTurf: Are there specific ideas or practices you want to try this 2nd time around that you didn’t at Iowa State?

Andresen: Nothing specific jumps to mind. Our budget is tighter than it was in Ames so working efficiently will be at a premium. The crew here is pretty well dialed in so right now the challenge is to audit all that goes on then make any course corrections needed as we get a little further down the road. Kirkwood sits on a high hill so one practice I’m thrilled with leaving behind is erecting flood barriers! Honestly, I was paying attention a little bit and learned a few things from President VanLoo when he wasn’t looking. Hopefully I can remember a few of those things but he’ll be listed first on speed dial and put on retainer.

SportsTurf: You know a lot of turf managers. What are they saying are the biggest obstacles to overcome for them to be successful today?

Andresen: Tough question and one I may not have a good pulse on, to be fair. Lack of skilled manpower and increased field usage are the two I hear and read most about. Somehow we’ve got to make a dent in the low salaries for new incoming professionals. We have a duty to find and train others to be qualified to take our place if need be or to manage their own facilities. There’s a disconnect though, with many employers not recognizing the value of labor redundancy. On the other hand, we do ourselves no favors by spending every daylight hour at work. The STMA Board and staff have worked very hard to isolate that issue and put a microscope on it. We’ll figure out a balance and we’ll be a better, more rewarding and valued profession.

SportsTurf: Will you have to “re-connect” with a younger generation or did you regularly interact with millennials when you were managing facilities? Or are you familiar because of your own adult children?

Andresen: Really good question. I did interact with many students while at ISU because the department used dozens within our custodial, grounds and facilities teams. I enjoyed it very much but honestly my influence was minimal compared to the student’s direct supervisor. As managers that employ students our job in many cases is to help teach a young person how to navigate and be productive within a work environment. Kirkwood horticulture instructors have already welcomed me and we share a common vision of maximizing an interface between their students and our grounds maintenance department.

We have a responsibility and a lot to gain, frankly, by having our department be a small part of the student’s academic experience. Most on our crew are former Kirkwood students so they understand the importance and are looking forward to playing a bigger role than is already in place. We’ll let the horticulture department teach agronomics and maybe we can offer to help on the industry and profession side all the way from landscape design to grounds and sports turf management to tree and shrub care. Meanwhile they’ll experience workplace dynamics in real time.

SportsTurf: How challenging has the move been? I assume you’ve been in Ames quite a long time.

Andresen: Can’t believe this is true but I was at ISU Athletics for 21 years and I’ve lived my entire life in central Iowa. This change is minor compared to ones others make so it would ring a little hollow to complain about a move 2 hours down the road. I have a new admiration for professionals who have picked up and moved far away or moved multiple times. The hardest part for me has been finding things like a new doctor, dentist and barber. The culture here is very generous and a colleague mentor is assigned to every new employee, which has been very helpful. It runs similarly to our old STMA mentoring program. I’ve come to very much appreciate the new view out the windshield from the one I had driving to and from work for the past 21 years. There are former co-workers I miss no longer being just a few steps away.

SportsTurf: What words of wisdom can you share with turf managers who leave the fields for jobs in facilities management? What are the challenges you overcame?

Andresen: As Sports Turf Managers we always strive to gain a seat at the decision making table for capital projects and facilities management. It was very fun and very challenging to learn how to first navigate within that environment, with the goal of advocating for your team’s needs. I gained a greater understanding for coaching pressures, student athlete needs, true coordination of efforts, communication transparency and other things too numerous to name. As much as anything, being in the position I was in taught that having a vision and setting goals to ultimately see the vision become reality was most powerful. Hand-in-hand with that is transparency. It’s very easy to have a teammate’s back or to take chances when each of us knows the accepted rules and end goal. At end of the day my facilities experience was wonderful and will help me every day as I switch back 100% to turf and landscape maintenance.

SportsTurf: No member has more passion for the STMA than you; why are you such a believer in the association?

Andresen: Thanks for saying that but I have many friends with the same or more passion for STMA than I have. I have passion because they showed me early on the value of helping others and having kindness. My best friends reside in this association and my life is so much richer because of being active in STMA.  Professionally I owe any success I’ve had to STMA and those dear friends. They are and were more determined to see me have success than I was even for myself. Helping others succeed charges my batteries but there are more than 3,000 STMA members that feel exactly the same way. STMA is made of very special people. It starts with membership, goes through the boardroom and is very real within our Lawrence, KS headquarters.

I live with the memory that shortly after my introduction to STMA, Steve Wightman had no clue who I was but when I asked for some minor baseball field advice he treated me as if I was his best friend. The great part is what I just said can absolutely be said by another 200 sports turf managers. Steve is my (and those hundreds of others) example but STMA has a roster full of others and each one of us has our own example. Fellow members understand the unique challenge our jobs present. The beauty of our association is that no one, including commercial partners and those teaching at our schools and universities are on parallel ground here, would deny helping you if you simply ask. Pride is one of the deadly sins and my trust is our profession stays humble. When the guys on STMA’s Mount Rushmore are the first ones to offer to help or provide counsel then it’s a pretty safe bet we’re in good hands and will remain that way for a long time.

SportsTurf: You were president of STMA 10 years ago. What are the biggest changes you have seen in the association over that time?

Andresen: As usual, another great question and one I’ll have to shoot from the hip on. I like that we’re almost 100% electronic with communications now. We knew back then we needed to get there but it was surely tough moving that direction. SportsTurf magazine is a valuable tool and tremendous credit should be given to you and the publisher. The international influence at our annual conference is very impressive.

Wasn’t long ago when Abby McNeal represented us at what may have been the first official STMA international trip. We owe much to past leadership and to Steve and Suz Trusty for helping us weather some very difficult growing pains and for keeping STMA in business, period. David Rosenberg built up the conference when we critically needed him to. Hiring Kim Heck and her staff has exceeded the wildest, most optimistic dreams any of us who were on the Board at the time could have had. The fluidity of having 1-year officer terms on the Board, driven by solid and cohesive strategic planning has been as fun to watch as it has been impressive.

More STMA members are now getting a chance to benefit from serving the association. What you give to STMA comes back to you exponentially, don’t underestimate that. I’d say above all else, the belief in us that our commercial partners have and have shown nationally and within our chapters is most remarkable. Simply having our commercial friends recognized as friends and partners in our association and in our lives is awfully special.

Thanks for the opportunity to reflect a bit as I move to this new challenge. It’s a pretty charmed life I live and much of it is due to friends I’ve met in STMA. STMA is simply an acronym that represents the special people we all know. It’s the people that make STMA special.