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Pillar of Ground Services leads quietly

Whether preparing for Spring Commencement or cleaning up debris in fall, Massey winner Mark Moon keeps Carolina’s campus beautiful and his colleagues safe.

Mark Moon standing outside.
Even after being promoted to crew leader and supervisor and taking on other responsibilities, Mark Moon still loves the hands-on work. (Jon Gardiner/UNC-Chapel Hill)

After the 2020 Commencement ceremony, delayed by COVID-19, was rescheduled for October 2021, Facilities Services and others faced a first-of-its-kind challenge: Transform Kenan Stadium from a field of play on Saturday to a special venue on Sunday.

Grounds Supervisor Mark Moon and his team arrived before the afternoon game’s final whistle. As soon as the 51,000 fans had streamed out, Moon and crew got to work setting up 3,000 chairs, exactly 4 feet apart, in straight rows. It took until 2 a.m. They returned four hours later to make another sweep for trash and recycling and stayed through the 1 p.m. ceremony to help break everything down again. “It was a long day,” Moon admitted.

For his 25-plus years of long days at Carolina, where he has shown up before and after complex events and mess-causing storms, Moon is one of six University employees to receive a 2022 C. Knox Massey Distinguished Service Award.

“I can call Mark and know that whatever it is I need will get taken care of as close to immediately as possible,” wrote Stacey Warner, senior associate director of University Events, in support of Moon’s Massey nomination. “Mark makes sure that campus is in top-notch shape for events and offers any other support.”

On a Tuesday in late April, Moon was immersed in preparing for another Commencement ceremony. He paused between meetings about setting up tents and moving furniture to describe some of the work: “Getting all of the flower beds mulched, getting things pruned up, getting weeds taking care of, getting debris off the sidewalks, things like that,” he said.

One huge outdoor office

Moon grew up in Toledo, Ohio, and has always loved working outside. His father took him hunting, fishing and into the garden. An uncle owned a farm that grew potatoes, sweet corn and cabbage just over the state line in Luna Pier, Michigan. Moon spent his breaks from Muskingum Area Technical College (now Zane State College) working there. “I just always enjoyed being outdoors,” Moon said. “It’s one huge office. There’s always sections that are busy and there’s sections that are nice and quiet, where you can just be alone and get your stuff done.”

Moon began working at Carolina in September 1996 after moving to Cary, North Carolina, from Ohio. It was just a few weeks after Hurricane Fran blew through the state, causing billions of dollars in damage. “When I got here, this place was a mess,” Moon said. He started as a grounds worker in south campus, keeping the area around Kenan-Flagler Business School, the Dean E. Smith Center and the Family Medicine Center planted, pruned and free of weeds and debris.

Even after being promoted to crew leader and supervisor and taking on other responsibilities, Moon still loves the hands-on work.

“My favorite thing is the landscape maintenance,” he said. “Going to an area that needs attention for whatever reason — weeds, or shrubs that died. Just going in there and cleaning it up and making it look good again. Just making the campus look good for the visitors who come on this campus, for the students who are here, the staff.”

Workplace safety

Moon also ensures the health and safety of his fellow Grounds Services employees, which he has done for 15 years as grounds safety officer. He issues frequent reminders about protecting ears, eyes and hands. (And, during the pandemic, wearing personal protective equipment.)

Michele Bowen, a training specialist assigned to work with Moon, wrote that his consistent concern for his fellow employees, and his prodding of supervisors to conduct monthly safety meetings with their employees, is “not excessive or fancy.” Rather, “it is a simple, yet effective strategy to encourage us to be more mindful of topics and practices that not only increase our safety but enable us to be more aware of the workplace safety of others.”

Tom Bythell, University arborist and forest manager, called Moon the pillar of Grounds Services. “Twice he has served as interim director and continued to manage his own shop,” Bythell wrote. “When hiring freezes came around, Mark supervised half the campus grounds maintenance crews for almost two years. UNC is well known for its beautiful campus. This happens because of some dedicated and talented employees like Mark. He never asks for credit, he is always the first to volunteer, he makes everyone around him better, he is a true leader.”

To the best of his ability

Moon credits his grandparents and parents for his work ethic. “My mom and dad always said, if you’re going to do a job, make sure you do it right and do it to the best of your ability,” he said. They also guided him to ask questions if needed and to always complete a task. “And that’s what I’ve tried to do,” he said. “I enjoy doing this work, always have, and I just do the best I can to my ability. My parents taught my brother and I that you just do a good job.”

Grounds Services Director Steven Gooch, one of several who nominated Moon, wrote: “I can honestly say I could not lead this department without the assistance and loyal support of Mark Moon. He is the ultimate professional, competent colleague and leader. He never says ‘no’ to anyone who reaches out for help.”

Two days after an April luncheon to celebrate Massey Award winners, Moon said he was grateful to his colleagues for nominating him, and to the Massey family for creating the awards. Then he had to go — Commencement was 10 days away, and a load of pine straw was waiting.

This story is part of The Well’s coverage of the C. Knox Massey Distinguished Service Awards, which recognize “unusual, meritorious or superior contributions” by University employees.Look for new recipient profiles to come orfind ones you may have missed.