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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.”

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Nathan is a junior at Hillsdale College studying Rhetoric and Public Address and Journalism. He is Sports Editor and beat reporter for the Football, Women's Basketball, and Baseball teams for the Hillsdale Collegian. When he's not watching or writing about sports, Nathan enjoys playing organ and singing. Originally from St. Louis Missouri, Nathan now lives in Fort Wayne, Indiana. You can follow Nathan on twitter @nategrime or Hillsdale Collegian Sports at @HDaleSports.