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Tending gardens at the vice president's home

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Jobe Axley on the job on the front porch at Number One Obervatory Circle, the U.S. vice president's residence in Washington, D.C.

Editor’s note: This article first appeared in the spring/summer edition of Tech Quarterly, the magazine of Forsyth Technical Community College (North Carolina). It is reprinted with permission.

It took Jobe Axley a long time to discover her true passion. But, with the help of a Forsyth Technical Community College education in the horticulture, she now has the job of a lifetime—caring for the gardens at the vice president’s official residence in Washington, D.C.

“This is a dream come true,” Axley says.

She’s been on the job for six months and she’s still pinching herself. A graduate of Forsyth Tech's horticulture technology program, Axley is on the staff caring for the gardens at the vice president’s residence on the grounds of the U.S. Naval Observatory. 

Back to school

Like many students at the college, Axley arrived after a series of work and educational experiences. In her early 30s, she already had a bachelor's degree in art history after attending five different colleges. At Forsyth Tech, she finally answered her true calling.

“I grew up gardening,” she says. “Both sides of my family are pretty outstanding gardeners.” 

But it wasn’t until she moved to North Carolina that she decided to pursue that passion and enrolled at Forsyth Tech. Axley says she particularly enjoyed her horticultural practices class.

“It was kind of a culmination class, where we took everything we had learned previously and put it to use in real space and time,” she says.

 Luckily for Axley, that meant working on the college’s Kristin Hartz Memorial Garden.

“It was a great experience,” she says. “We all got a lot of personal satisfaction from it, seeing it grow before our very eyes.”

After graduating, Axley moved back to her native Maryland. Unfortunately, she made the move just as the recession took hold.

Waiting for job openings

Months of frustration followed as Axley looked for work in the Washington, D.C. area.

“I suffered through three years of pretty serious underemployment,” she says. “I applied for zillions of jobs.”

Finally, she found an ad on the U.S. government employment website USAJOBS.gov that seemed too good to be true.

“When the Navy called me for this job, I did a little touchdown dance,” she remembers. And when she met her future employers, “I aced the interview, thank God. They were impressed with my experience and education.”

The interview wasn’t easy.

“They asked a lot of technical questions; it was like a rapid-fire oral pop quiz. But because Forsyth Tech had given me such great preparation, I was able to answer everything quickly and correctly," Axley said. "I talked about my wonderful experience in several of my classes and working on the Kristin Hartz Garden. They seemed to like what they heard.”

Now she is responsible for a 12-acre campus, with six acres in lawn, along with a fern forest, vertical gardens, a cut flower garden, tropical plants and perennials, including a broad representation of natives, patios, water features and the intensively maintained beds that directly frame the view of the house. In addition, she manages contractors who provide auxiliary landscape services.

Most important, Axley loves her work.

“It feels really good to be outside–it’s almost like therapeutic labor. It’s good for the body and good for the mind,” she says. 

Kudos from the VP

As a bonus, Axley recently got to meet the house’s current resident.

“I did get to speak briefly with Mr. Biden. My day was already going well when he came by and said that the grounds were looking great.” It was a very proud moment, Jobe says. “He is very busy and does very important work. So when he and other staff notice that the grounds have been looking very spiffy, all of my work is validated.”

Jobe emphasizes, however, that her employer is not any particular resident of the house, but the U.S. Navy: “I just happen to work at the most awesome naval base in the world.”

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