By Bob Fowler, Roane State staff writer
Most folks don’t know Roane State Community College has a greenhouse, much less its location.
But the hummingbirds do.
It’s not unusual for the tiny birds to dart among the bright flowers withinâ€” hovering with their wings a rapid-fire blur as they sip nectar from the bloomsâ€”after Nancy Humphreys opens the greenhouse door each morning.
Brilliant-hued flowering plants, some of them exotics, share space on wooden tables with succulents, tomatoes, eggplants, carrots, orchids, and even pineapples.
Huge pots of different colored mums, many destined to become decorative additions to several Roane State campuses, await delivery. Important visitors are coming, Humphreys explained, and Roane State officials want campuses to look their best.
At the very back of the greenhouse, in huge plastic bins filled with recycling water, swim several tilapia. Those fish, which resemble koi, were donated and placed there in January. They’ve grown big and fat, and much to Humphreys’ delight, their tiny offspring hover just below the surface.
While tilapia are usually raised to become savory meals, “I’d just as soon eat one of my dogs or cats,” Humphreys said of her finned friends. Stick a finger in the water, she said, and a tilapia will rise up to try to take a nibble.
Humphreys, 76, lives in a 113-year-old house in Morgan County’s Oakdale community and has been a Roane State employee for 15 years. Before that, she ran her own landscaping business.
She was the grounds superintendent on the college’s Oak Ridge campus for six years before her promotion to the title of horticulture tech III on the Roane County campus.
The greenhouse is tucked behind the campus’s physical plantâ€”the maintenance buildingâ€”beyond the Henry/Stafford East Tennessee Agricultural Exposition building.
The greenhouse’s history includes a couple of relocations. It was first erected at the Michael Dunn Center on Gallaher Road and then moved to Roane State’s Oak Ridge campus.
When Nancy Humphreys took the job on the college’s Roane County campus some nine years ago, the greenhouse went with her. Her husband, James Humphreys, who died nearly three years ago, rebuilt the 30 by 72-foot structure on the current site.
The daily care and feeding of the plants within is just one part of Nancy Humphreys’ job.
She oversees the purchase of decorative plants for the college’s campuses and has repeatedly proven to be a shrewd negotiator, often getting huge discounts from local businesses.
Humphreys sows vegetable seeds for transplanting into the raised beds of the nearby Roane State Community Garden, with the harvests given to the new food pantry inside the gym on the flagship campus. She also oversees an on-campus recycling initiative and tends to two memorial gardens.
Humphreys says she’s retiring on January 1, 2020, but she’ll continue to work part-time at Roane State, including taking care of her beloved greenhouse plantsâ€”and fish.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
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