According to Phil Taschereau, UNE’s lead landscaper, when he was growing up as a French-Canadian boy in the largely Anglo town of Arundel, Maine, his career options were to become a fireman or a priest. “And there was no way I was becoming a priest,” he exclaimed during a Biddeford Campus interview one snowy day in December. “I like to raise hell too much!”
Anyone who has spent time on the Biddeford Campus surely has seen Taschereau. He is the tall, lean, gray-haired man who buzzes from one spot on campus to the next, putting season-tailored plantings in the buildings’ window boxes, trimming trees, clearing brush, maintaining the many vibrant flower beds, and decorating the Campus to make it look its best at all times. Though in his 60s, he exudes the energy of a teenager.
“I always had a passion for plants,” said Taschereau. “So instead of becoming a priest or a fireman, I became a gardener,” he said with a laugh. While still in high school, Taschereau took a job as a greenhouse apprentice on the private estate of the Kennebunk philanthropist Elmina Sewall. It was a position that changed his life in many ways. Not only did the job further cultivate his love of gardening, but his relationship with Sewall planted the seed from which bloomed Taschereau’s zest to live life to the fullest. “She was an amazing woman,” he said of Sewall. “She taught me to embrace life, and I’ve been embracing it ever since.”
Taschereau worked his way up the employment ladder on the Sewall estate, eventually becoming the superintendent of grounds.
Sewall’s generous contributions to UNE brought many opportunities for her to visit the university, and in her later years, Taschereau, a loyal and trusted employee of over 50 years, accompanied her to provide assistance. It was through these visits that Taschereau became well acquainted with UNE, which served him well when, in 2008, after Sewall’s passing and subsequent sale of her estate, he sought employment with the University.
“Boy, I fell into a candy shop with this place,” Taschereau said of his position at UNE. “I love what I do.” Taschereau says that his job is the perfect combination of two of his passions—gardening and working with young people. As the lead landscaper, Taschereau oversees 13 work-study students, who assist him in beautifying the Campus. A scout leader for over 23 years, Taschereau is committed not just to bringing out the best in nature, but in bringing out the best in the up-and-coming generation. “They are a great bunch of kids,” he said of his student-workers. “Each one is so original and so special. Each one is gifted in his or her own way.” The proud father of a son and daughter, Taschereau is quick to correct anyone who questions the usefulness of female grounds workers. “They do a fantastic job,” he said emphatically. “In fact, some of them are my crew leaders.”
Taschereau elaborated on the topic of women’s role in the society: “I brought up my daughter to be a driver,” he stated metaphorically. In his view, anybody can be a passenger. But to get where you want to go in life, you have to be a driver. “It’s like what the Cheshire Cat says in Alice in Wonderland,” he explained, referring to Alice’s question, “Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?” and the Cat’s answer: “That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.”
For Taschereau, UNE seems to be his goal destination. Having graduated with a business management degree from Westbrook College, now UNE’s Portland Campus, over 40 years ago, he feels that his “life has come full-circle.” But while his job at UNE makes him feel as if he has landed where he is supposed to be, it certainly hasn’t given him a sense of complacency. He works with the vigor of someone who still has a ladder to climb. “I am always re-evaluating what I can do to make things look better,” said Taschereau. “I’m always looking at the flower beds and thinking, ‘Where can I add a different color next year to make things really pop?’ I Google other universities; I travel to other universities and see what they’re doing with their landscaping to make sure that what we’re doing here is the best that can be done.”
Taschereau’s role in presenting the best face of the University undoubtedly has lent a hand to UNE’s success and expansion. “We are vibrating at a different frequency these days,” he says of UNE. “We have such incredible people here doing such incredible things. This place is growing. This place is blooming,” he said energetically.
When Phil Taschereau talks about growing and blooming, one can’t help but listen.