Harding groundskeeper pursues degree
Joe Burton is a man of many talents: studying, working, fathering three kids, being a loving husband, playing in a band, teaching baseball and softball, owning a small business, making furniture, and even scuba diving. He is also a reason Harding’s campus stays green and lovely.
Joe is not a typical Harding student. At 36-years-old, he came back to Harding to finish his degree in economics, combining his full-time study with his full-time job as a groundskeeper for the University.
Joe started his bachelor degree program at Harding in fall 2000. When he was halfway done with college, he found out he was about to become a father and had to quit school. He returned in January 2018 to continue pursuing his degree in business administration and economics, needing 63 more hours to graduate.
“I really thought being a student now would be way more different than it is,” Joe said. “I thought there would be more laptops out, but my first semester I realized that they really wanted to see you writing with an actual pen or pencil and take actual notes.”
However, technology plays a big role in his business classes.
“I am so happy I am finishing school now, because I usually push back against technology, but getting a degree now showed me the beauty of it, made me appreciate it more, and showed me how functional it is,” Joe said.
One of the graduation requirements is a kinesiology activity class. Joe took a scuba diving course, and now he is a certified international scuba diver.
“This is a building block — if I go to the Caribbean, I can jump off in the water and go down deep,” Joe said.
After graduation, Joe plans on being an urban planner and designer, driven by conservation values. He already has a small company named “Black Sumac Design LLC.”
Dr. Heath Carpenter, associate English professor, whose daughter has played on a soccer team Joe coached, called Burton’s personality infectious as it helps others want to get involved.
“He’s a great example of the kind of person we hope a Harding student will be: He has his hands in a host of community activities and marries an insatiable curiosity and desire to learn with a commitment to action and bold leadership, all with affability and a spirit of humility,” Carpenter said.
Kristen Burton, Joe’s wife, said her husband is a man of many talents.
“My husband happens to be the most multitalented person I have ever known,” Kristen said. “He somehow manages to share each of his talents with everyone he knows … He can bring you to tears playing guitar and singing; he is the first person willing to help a friend out with any need they have.”
Kristen said if her husband doesn’t know how to fix something, he will learn and do just that.
“When my oldest daughter showed interest in playing 3v3 soccer, Joe went to the public library and checked out videos on how to coach that sport,” Kristen said.
Joe has successfully coached his daughter and her friends for many years. He also coaches his son and his friends in baseball every summer. Joe coached about 30 games just last June.
“I think he is motivated by his family — our kids and me — to make a life we can all be proud of,” Kristen said.
Joe wears many hats as a father, husband, coach, student, groundskeeper, youth leader, musician, preschool board member and small business owner.
“If you are fortunate enough to know him, you are very lucky,” Kristen said. “I happen to be the luckiest of all, because he chose to live life with me.”