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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.”