A Student For Life | Women in Grounds

March 18, 2024

Barbara Hatchel’s beginnings in grounds management happened when she was seven years old. Her neighbor, Mr. Church, was a corn farmer and one year he gave her some corn from his field and told her to plant it, reassuring her that it would grow.

“So, I did. My mother had a garden, and we planted it. Sure enough, up came my corn. After that, I worked on our yard for years throughout high school, but that’s really all the experience I had.”


After high school, Barbara decided to go to college to get her associate degree in radiation therapy, but she quickly realized that this new pursuit didn’t make her happy. She returned to what she knew: Municipality and the outdoors. She worked in the Parks and Recreation Department beginning in 1998, then transitioned to working for Amarillo Independent School District for about ten years. Her foreman and supervisor at the Parks and Recreation Department served as her first mentors in the field. She could barely change a tire at the time, but she quickly learned the ropes working alongside experienced individuals.

“My first challenge was one day, they looked at me and said ‘Here are the keys. Get that big, international tractor over to the shop.’ My first question was ‘How do I start this thing?’ So I worked with Kevin and Clint, and they showed me everything I could possibly need to know about equipment, and why we did things a certain way.”


Barbara eventually returned to college, attending Texas Tech, and earning a bachelor’s degree in 2021. At the same time, she was actively working in grounds management and devoting time to growing through professional organizations and events, like the Professional Grounds Management Society. In October 2021, Barbara attended the PGMS National Convention in Kentucky, and from there, George Bernardon, SSC’s previous VP of Grounds Management, brought her onto the team.

“I had just graduated a few months before, and George got with me during the very first event of that year’s conference in October. He said, ‘Let’s talk,’ and my journey with SSC started there.”



Making a Change

After their meeting at the National Conference, George quickly brought Barbara onto the SSC team. She started as a Bench Manager but soon transitioned to a permanent position at Texas A&M University in College Station. Today, she manages the Fine Horticulture Crew, which means she oversees high-visual areas on campus, including the George Bush Library, Leech Teaching Gardens, Bonfire Memorial, and even Aggie Park. Barbara couldn’t be happier to be managing her favorite areas of campus.

“I think my favorite part of doing what I do is watching people’s reactions, especially when they first visit somewhere like Aggie Park. Even just watching people walk down Military Walk, going from pedestal to pedestal reading, because it really does take you back through the history and gives you a feeling of being there back then.”


While Barbara wasn’t raised in College Station, she looks back fondly on the memories she has of the area.

“I was born in Abilene, and I’ve lived here in College Station for two years – but that’s it. But when I was growing up, my father and I would come over and watch the fire school once a year. That’s how I was introduced to A&M. I actually have a picture from 1978 of the campus overhead that I took from a plane. Now I look at it and think, ‘Wow, how things have changed!’”

Learning from the Ground Up

Barbara entered the grounds field with little knowledge, but she learned everything she needed to know along the way.

“My mentors taught me to never forget where I came from. I started at the ground level and worked my way up and down. I try to remember that because I used to be in that position, and I remember what it was like.”


Now, as she leads her own grounds team, she’s become well-versed in the best ways to manage team members of all backgrounds and levels of knowledge. She doesn’t shy away from bringing people with little to no experience on board.

“It’s a nature-nurture thing for me. I’m not going to be mother hen, but I will always have a good relationship with my crew. I also know that sometimes it’s easier to build someone from the ground up than to change someone who has been in the industry for 20 years, so when new people come in not knowing everything, I see their potential to turn into strong leaders. We go step by step, I teach them how to do things, and we work together.”


Her advice to other women in the industry? Refuse to ever be intimidated and be a student of life.

“I print out articles from horticulture magazines, Texas Gardener, and Texas Seeds, and I have two notebooks full of just two or three-page articles. If you have a rainy day and need to get your hours in, sit down and read – start learning things. Gather all of the information that you possibly can. Our world is a huge lab – try things; if you make a mistake, remember what you did and try changing something. It’s all trial and error – so don’t be afraid to try.”


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