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Freshman Grace Balkan, freshman Kate Ford, and senior Elsa Lagerquist helped make the courtyard bloom Sept. 23. Collegian | S. Nathaniel Grime

The walls of Olds Residence enclose a little-known slice of paradise, and house director Linda Gravel is working with her residents to expand it this year.

In the middle of the women’s residence are two open courtyards. Gravel already transformed one into a garden with benches and a picnic table during her first year at Hillsdale, and the second is in the works.

Gravel, whom the residents of Olds affectionately call “Mama G”, said gardening was her hobby even before she came to the college four years ago.

“I came to Olds, and I looked out in the garden and thought it looked terrible,” she said. “I like gardening, and I wanted to make it look presentable for the girls to enjoy the wonders of God’s creation and the flowers.”

She worked tirelessly to transform the ivy-riddled cavern and broken chairs into a vibrant courtyard, complete with freshly-painted tables and chairs and an arrangement of bright and enticing flowers. Gravel even planted tomatoes and pumpkins to harvest in the fall for the residents.

She said some flowers were donated to her by Jan Marchese, whose daughter, Gianna Marchese, is a 2017 graduate and current social media coordinator at Hillsdale College.

“My desire for doing it was for the girls so they have a place to go outside of their room,” Gravel said. “We have this wonderful courtyard and I’m really glad with how it turned out.”

The residents of Olds are getting their hands dirty as well, helping “Mama G” to clean up, prepare, and plant in the second courtyard.

“My roommate and I went out and helped plant tulip bulbs,” freshman Caroline Walker said. “It provided a great break from school to go dig in the dirt and help with a project we know will be beautiful.”

Walker said her room looks out over the courtyard that is in progress, so she is excited to see how it turns out.

“Mama G showed me her design for the back courtyard and I’m very excited about it,” she said. “Her goal is to have the whole yard surrounded by tulips.”

Gravel’s plan for the second garden includes a flowerbed-lined path that will surround a circular concrete platform, which she powerwashed and painted, serving as an area to sit and study.

As for the front courtyard, freshman Jolene Estruth said it is a perfect place to go for both leisure and work.

“I love the practicability of the courtyard,” she said. “It wears many hats as a place for study, relaxation, community, and gardening. Plus, Mama G is usually out there, and she makes everything better.”

Sophomore Rachel Marinko, a resident advisor at Olds, said the courtyard is a perfect place for her group Bible study.

“I help lead a Bible study that meets in the front courtyard,” she said. “There’s something really special about studying God’s word outside under the stars.”

Whether the courtyard is used to read, talk, study, or just relax, “Mama G” and her residents are working on beautifying it and making it even better than before.

“I would love to thank Mama G for her immense care and love for us through service,” Estruth said. “She puts so much effort into making Olds a home and providing as much encouragement as possible. Whether it is through communing with God or fellow students in beautiful nature, the courtyard offers a place of peace and solace. For this, we ought to be incredibly grateful.”