Though many students walk by the Physical Plant Management building every day, it’s likely few realize that the clean, orderly appearance and functioning of virtually the entire campus depends on the employees inside.
Yoshi Teshima is a PPM landscaper who has trekked the globe and literally defied death on more than one occasion.
About ten years ago, he was involved in a serious accident in which he fell and was impaled through the torso by a fence post while working at home. He made a full recovery, but the incident is far from the most exciting point in his life.
Temisha was a child of six living in Japanese-controlled Manchuria when World War II broke out. Being of Japanese ancestry, he and his family literally had to run for their lives when the war began.
“Manchuria is part of China, but the Japanese controlled it and my parents lived there (until) the war started. We ran from the Chinese and the Russians,” he said. “I remember almost the whole thing.”
His two younger siblings – a brother and a sister – died while his family fled, leaving himself, his parents and three older siblings.
“So many weeks without water or food, and we were going through the jungle,” he said.
Temisha said the family had to survive often on grass and weeds, and drank rainwater while his father was sick with stomach cancer. Despite their difficulties, the family decided to remain together, refusing to leave sicker members of their group behind. Eventually, they were caught and placed in a concentration camp in China.
“When we got to the camp, they took my father away and put him in a different camp for labor,” he said.
Temisha said his father managed to escape from the camp and made a cane so that “he would look crippled and they wouldn’t bother him anymore for labor,” he said.
At the end of the war, Temisha and his three remaining siblings and parents were sent to reside in Japan with his grandparents. He remained there for the next 20 years.
Temisha spent two years in the Japanese military, and then left for Los Angeles.
“I joined the military because I wanted to go to Brazil, but I didn’t get to go,” he said.
Once in Los Angeles, he said he found it challenging to learn English, because there were so many young Japanese people who all spoke his native tongue. He did eventually learn English.
Temisha is now fluent in three languages; besides English, he speaks Japanese and Spanish. His knowledge of Spanish came from a career choice that would ultimately lead him to CSUN.
After a relatively brief stint as an auto mechanic, Temisha began his current career as a landscaping entrepreneur.
“That’s when I learned Spanish,” he said.
He needed to communicate with his primarily Latino employees. He started to work for PPM when his wife became seriously ill.
“My wife was sick for many years,” he recalls. “I spent a lot of money (on medical expenses) and couldn’t catch up. We lost everything: the house, my business.”
A friend then referred him to CSUN, and he became a landscaper.
Temisha has been employed with CSUN’s PPM for 17 years, and is now retired, though he still works part time as an annuitant in the grounds area.
He said he enjoys coming to work and seeing old friends.
“I like the work,” he said. “The reason I came back (as an annuitant retiree) is because I can come and talk and joke with friends. If I don’t work, then I stay home and it’s boring. I’d get old quick.”
Temisha said he is responsible for the plants and trees on campus. He gardens and plants, as well as takes care of the irrigation system. One of his main duties is changing the color schemes and plant species to match the season.
“Three times a year, we change the flower color,” he said. “In the spring, it’s often marigolds and petunias.”
In the winter he often plants purple or white pansies and begonias.
“The kind of plants also depends on the surrounding area,” he said.
One of his favorite parts of the job is when students pass him and show him their appreciation for the beauty of the plants and flowers he plants around campus.
“That’s what makes me feel good, when people like it,” he said, adding that he also likes it when people take the time to thank him for his work.
PPM Director Tom Brown notes that although it is often over-looked, PPM’s work is integral and goes beyond simply keeping the campus clean.
“All too often, it’s not perceived as a valuable aspect to the university’s and individual students’ academic goals, but we know how important appearance and aesthetics are,” he said, noting that PPM promotes a serene environment. “Aesthetics and operations play an important part in having that user-friendly aspect.”
Leslie Gillman, room reservation and academic facilities coordinator for Academic Resources, said PPM plays a key role in maintaining a clean, safe and pleasing campus environment.
“PPM does a pretty wonderful job with landscaping,” she said. “When we’re looking at doing things in the future, we ask what we could do to make sure that students will have a better, more interesting environment.”
Contributing to the beauty of the campus is something Temisha especially enjoys. He said he appreciates when his supervisor lets him contribute to the campus environment by allowing him to carry out his own ideas for plants and flower colors around campus.
He said he discusses his ideas with his supervisor, and if he agrees and it fits into the budget, Temisha goes ahead with it.
“After I see the finished product, I feel good,” he said.
Temisha said the annual commencement ceremony is the biggest and busiest time for his department.
“There are a lot of people coming onto the campus,” he said. “We have to make sure it looks nice.”
Temisha starts his workday at 5 a.m. He starts off by checking all the trash cans around campus and changing them if necessary.
At about 8:30 a.m., he starts gardening and weeding. Along with two other workers, he is responsible for planting areas and trash cans in all the parking lots, structures, and throughout the entire main campus area.
He said the workload is manageable, but tiring.
“It’s a lot, and it keeps me busy, but we have fun,” he said.
Roni Lopez, administrative coordinator for Brown, said the current budget has not allowed them to hire extra people, though they know it’s something that is needed.
“We’re expecting four new people,” she said, but did not say exactly when.
Another result of budgetary difficulties is that Temisha and his co-workers have not had pay raises for some time.
“We had a small raise a couple of years ago, but none since. We’re hoping for another one soon,” Temisha said.
Lopez said the administration at PPM is aware of pay raise concerns and is currently working on the problem.
In the meantime, Temisha said he is surviving with his part-time pay and retirement benefits.
“Of course I have to watch money,” he said. “But it’s not a struggle. I think I can make it.”
Bethania Palma can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.