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Campus Gardener Blends Love of Land, Faith in Devotions Book

Yates Drum
Yates Drum has cared for Davidson’s grounds for 25 years.

Whether they know him by name, most members of the college community recognize Yates Drum from his 25 years as a campus groundskeeper. Drum cares for the areas around the Student Health Center, Chidsey and Tomlinson residence halls, and the Martin Court apartments. He also occasionally leads groups of visitors on tours of the campus flora.

Very few people know, however, that Drum has a passion for writing. As early as junior high, he would sometimes skip class to write poetry in the school library. Though he pursued a career in landscaping and horticulture, he never lost his desire to write.

Drum finally followed his heart, and has recently completed a 31-chapter book titled A Gardener's Devotion Book. He was motivated in the process by his Christian faith, his love of horticulture, the memory of his late wife, June, and the encouragement and friendship of Davidson's Armfield Professor of English Brenda Flanagan.

Drum writes in his introduction to the book, "God first loved his land, and saw that his creation was good."

He explained, "It's an amazing world we live in as gardeners. It's vital that we take care of what God has given us. It's through the knowledge and wisdom of God that we can learn about our environment and strive to be good stewards of the land."

Chapters in the book connect scripture to plants and their care. One relates scripture from Isaiah to oak trees. Another compares photosynthesis to the Christian life.

The only exceptions are two chapters about Christian life and family values in the 1920s, which relay the wisdom that Drum's father, F. Yates Drum Sr., passed along to his three children as they grew.

Labor of Love

The book is dedicated to Drum's late wife, June, and profits from sales will go toward the physical plant department's June Drum Tool and Equipment Fund. Yates established the fund in 2010 when June, a fellow horticulturalist, died.

Drum and Flanagan
Drum and Armfield Professor of English Brenda Flanagan share coffee and conversation in the Alvarez College Union.

In the aftermath of their tragic loss, Yates and his two sons, Preston and Gary, sought an appropriate way to honor June. Gary recognized his father's skill and passion for writing, and suggested the idea for a devotions book and the memorial fund.

"It all kind of happened overnight," Drum explained. "I got started immediately because I knew it was something I wanted to do, and I felt I could do a good job at it."

Son Preston, who is currently pursuing his MFA at Minneapolis College of Art and Design, also helped by drawing the cover artwork and about 30 other images for the book.

A Gardener's Devotion Book is not Drum's only writing project. About 20 years ago he began work on a novel titled Inkster at Merriman. It focuses on a young father who suddenly gets a larger family than he bargained for when his girlfriend's five children come to live with them.

"The book is about how they survive," said Drum. "They can barely take care of themselves. His friends want him to leave Cynthia and his parents despise her. The story unfolds from there."

His interest in literature attracted the attention of Edward Armfield Senior Professor of English Brenda Flanagan, who has published several novels of her own.

"Inkster is a fascinating story," Flanagan said. "Yates has a wonderful sense of character and place, and I fell in love with his protagonist."

The two now meet regularly for coffee and conversation about their literary endeavors.

"She's my friend and creative editor," Drum said. "I bounce ideas off her and she helps me develop them."

Flanagan said she's not surprised to find a member of the college staff writing a book; indeed, with his recent work Drum joins several published authors on the staff.

Inkster has been through many drafts over the past two decades, but Drum hopes to publish it next year. In the meantime, A Gardener's Devotion Book (The Main Street Rag, 2015) is now available through Drum or through The Main Street Rag Online Bookstore.