At the start of the 2022 school year, Keith Gabora, lead groundskeeper and horticulturist at Barnard, was planting greenery by the Greek Games statue when a student asked if he needed help. He was taken by surprise. “I feel like that wouldn’t happen at a regular college. Where I went to [school], I didn’t know the grounds staff,” said Gabora. “I like the community vibe that Barnard has.”
It’s not uncommon to see Gabora outside with his co-worker Cory Lapp planting, pruning, or watering on Barnard’s campus. The duo is part of Barnard’s groundskeeping crew, responsible for maintaining the College’s lush green spaces and horticulture. Alongside fellow groundskeeper Margherita Casperson, they are who to thank for all of the expertly trimmed bushes, manicured lawns, and exquisite array of flowers, plants, and herbs that greet visitors to campus every day.
Gabora, who joined the Barnard community in 2015, designs new gardens, sources materials — such as flowers, soil, and seeds — and manages the irrigation system, among other things. He also runs the Barnard Garden Club in partnership with Nick Gershberg, administrator of the Arthur Ross Greenhouse. In this capacity, he teaches students about food production, invasive species removal, and a range of horticulture topics. Lapp, who has been at the College for three years, assists Gabora with groundskeeping efforts, such as providing regular maintenance and making truck deliveries for the College.
Gabora likes to refer to their duo as “special ops” because when there’s a problem on campus, they are often the first responders. But that’s not their only nickname.
“Some guys around campus call us the Beach Boys,” said Lapp. That’s because when they are not working at Barnard, they are lifeguarding at Jones Beach State Park on Long Island. From Memorial Day to Labor Day, Gabora and Lapp work weekend shifts at the beach’s Field 4. “[On] weekends, it’s like nothing else,” said Lapp. Gabora has been at Jones Beach for 23 years, and Lapp for 13. In fact, that was where they originally met.
During their daylong weekend shifts, the two monitor swimmers, keep beachgoers safe, and mentor other lifeguards. Watching thousands of people, and having to save anywhere from zero to a dozen swimmers each day, at once can be taxing so they work an hour-on/hour-off schedule on the lifeguard stand to give them opportunities to recuperate. During their downtime, Gabora and Lapp stay busy. “We could sit and read a book, but we like to work out, lift weights, swim, surf, kayak, fish, and clam,” said Gabora.
Both Gabora and Lapp grew up on Long Island and had a penchant for lifeguarding from an early age. Gabora spent a lot of time swimming and surfing as a kid and went on to become a Division I swimmer in college. For Lapp, lifeguarding was a family business of sorts. His dad worked at Rockaway Beach in Queens for 18 years and both of his brothers, who are teachers, now also work there.
With over 30 years of collective experience at Jones Beach, Gabora and Lapp have built a strong community with the other Jones Beach lifeguards, who are professionals from all different walks of life. Many have become lifelong friends. “We snowboard together, travel together. We’re always doing something,” said Lapp. “I definitely don’t do it for the money at this point.”
Maintaining this strong community vibe is what led Gabora, one day a few years back, to tell Lapp about a groundskeeper job at Barnard. From there, the two went from being co-workers at the beach to also being co-workers at Barnard. Both men have managed to cultivate careers for themselves outside of the typical 9-to-5 office job. “Barnard has given me the freedom to do my own thing,” said Lapp.
Being a lifeguard and groundskeeper has also been liberating for Gabora, who spent nearly a decade after college working on Wall Street. “It wasn’t for me,” he said. At age 30, Gabora decided to reinvent his career.
“I love being outside. I’m not a sit-in-an-office type of person. Luckily, I learned that before it was too late,” said Gabora. “I love both of my jobs; they’re my two passions. It’s nice to be able to [do] the things you love.”