What started out as a summer gig when he was 16 has turned into a full-time career for Garrett Wellman, now 21.
Although he and other employees of Battle Ground-based Woody’s Custom Landscaping were forced to shutter for more than a month when the pandemic started, work is now back in full swing.
“That was really difficult for everyone,” Wellman said in a phone interview. “Some of the guys in our company rely on that check week to week; filing for unemployment and that process was really difficult.”
Now they’re wearing bandannas as face coverings as they complete a $75,000 job at a residential home in Ridgefield.
Wellman never anticipated going into landscaping work, but after two years of school at Whitworth University in Spokane, a private Christian college, Wellman said his family couldn’t afford it, even with grants and scholarships. There, he majored in psychology.
“I still live with my parents just to make it easier to pay off loans right now,” he said, adding that he’s lived in Yacolt his whole life and graduated from Seton Catholic High School, where he played baseball and basketball. After only two years at Whitworth University, he owed $22,000, he said. The work at Woody’s is helping him chip away at the debt and eventually, Wellman came to enjoy the work itself. He said his older cousin, Darren Knippleberg, is a project manager at Woody’s and has shown him the ropes.
“If I commit myself fully, I think,” Wellman said when asked if he plans to pursue the job long term. “I’m in a pretty good spot with the company, in my own opinion. I think it’s going to continue down the road. The company is only going to expand and grow from here.”
The Columbian caught up with Wellman to learn more about him and his job.
What project are you working on right now?
Currently, our main project is out here in Ridgefield. It basically started out as a barren landscape. It was a little hill with a bit of grass. We took out the grass and started building retaining walls just to bring up the grade level with the concrete that already existed at the house. Everything that Woody’s does as a company is all residential and private. The end plan is to have a paver patio; and then below that, we have like a gas fire pit that we’re making and hooking up to their gas lines. We’re also making a water feature as part of the patio itself, too.
What did you go to school for?
I went to school for psychology, believe it or not. I know — that lines up with landscaping really well. I felt like if I could do that, I could help people down the road. I feel like mental illnesses and stuff like that go under the radar. People don’t look toward it as much as physical handicaps and stuff like that.
Was it a difficult decision to stop higher education?
Yeah, it kind of was because even though I only invested like two years, it was still two years of my life — it was a lot of grueling school and a lot of money. It was a very expensive school. So when it came down to financially, it wasn’t too much more of a decision I really had at the time, it was more I just needed to leave and focus on repaying my debt.
How has COVID-19 impacted what you do? How has the business had to adjust?
It’s a big curve ball thrown into our whole system. Especially because unemployment wasn’t really on top of it because so many people were filing. Once we got back to work, we had to follow safety protocols for COVID-19. We have to wear masks and gloves at all times, obviously, and we also have to have a washing station that we are constantly sanitizing our hands. Whenever we take our gloves off we have to wash our hands.
What was navigating unemployment like for you?
Personally, I was pretty comfortable financially, but due to our company kind of being forced to file for unemployment just so we didn’t go underground, it was a little difficult. I still haven’t gotten all of my unemployment for the weeks that I filed. It’s kind of wishy-washy, in my opinion, but it will probably balance itself out.
Do you think the landscaping industry is going to be resilient to the impacts of the pandemic?
I don’t think we’re at as much of a risk. We are outside all the time. We’re never inside working at all. We’re never in close contact or close quarters with others. And if we are, we’re trying to avoid that. We constantly have our masks on. Everyone’s always talking across the job site: “Hey, six feet.” We kind of make a joke out of it, even though we shouldn’t. As far as comparisons to other types of companies, I don’t think we’re as much of a risk as much as industrial warehouses or restaurants.
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Do you think you would have continued school had you had financing?
I 100 percent would have. I’m a very firm believer that everything happens for a reason. I wouldn’t trade anything, but if the situation was in that case, I would have definitely still be going to school right now. It’s not very easy when I chose to go to one of the most expensive schools in the Northwest. So I take blame for that.