Each year when he returns to Schenectady, Union College senior Rob Davis said he has seen a marked improvement in the city’s appeal.
Downtown is nicer, there are new places to go, new places to explore — and it just looks better, said Davis, who is from New Haven, Conn.
“It feels nice knowing that the city, while I’m here, is improving,” he said, holding a rake inside Vale Cemetery. “And then when I come back in 10, 15, 20 years to see how much it’s changed, hopefully it continues to have positive changes.”
Davis was one of nearly 300 Union College students who spread out across the city Saturday and lent their time for the school’s 17th annual John Calvin Toll Day of Service. The mission was to beautify Schenectady and every little effort helps, said organizers.
Twelve sites — also including nursing homes, churches, charities and other organizations — received volunteer help Saturday.
Neat piles of wet, yellow leaves lined the opening road into Vale Cemetery, raked there by Davis and a handful of his Phi Delta Theta brothers.
They were up before 9 a.m. on a weekend to spruce up the old cemetery on a cold, drizzly day, but it was worth it, Davis said. As they walked through town in matching purple shirts, people outside would ask where they were going.
“They seem to be grateful for what we’re doing,” he said. “It would definitely make the school a better place if students can live in a better city and build it up. A lot of students spend most of their four years on campus, so they don’t really get to explore and see what Schenectady really has.”
And it has a lot, said Union senior Kim Klion.
She and six of her Gamma Phi Beta sorority sisters were taking a break from mulching trees and raking in Vale Cemetery.
“I think Schenectady’s charming,” said the Gamma Phi Beta member as she set aside her rake and looked appreciatively around her. “It’s not necessarily what people would call beautiful, but if you walk up and down State Street and near Proctors, it has charm. Back when I visited the school, I have since seen a regrowth of Schenectady.”
The sisters were spreading mulch Saturday to help maintain the health of the trees in the cemetery, which was in physical decline more than a decade ago.
Senior Jillian Coffey said she chose to help her sisters Saturday over taking a practice Graduate Record Examination.
The volunteer day is a good opportunity for Union College students to give back to Schenectady, a city that has done a lot for their school, and really connect with the community, the sisters agreed.
“It’s definitely revamping, reaching out, making it a college-friendly town,” Klion said. “So I think it’s really important to help clean, because even now it’s very different than it was five years ago.”
Vale Cemetery board of trustees vice president Dr. Bernard McEvoy said that Union College has a long history of involvement with the cemetery.
“Union College donated some of the land that is now Vale Cemetery,” McEvoy said. “So it’s unique that the students are here today.”
McEvoy and his wife were honored Oct. 2 as Schenectady Patroons, the highest award a city resident can receive, for their work in preserving and restoring Vale Cemetery and the caretaker’s house.
Other sites to receive help Saturday included the COCOA House, Rotterdam Boys & Girls Club, Schenectady Museum, Harmony Fellowship Church, South Street Park, Catholic Charities, Sojourn House, First United Methodist Church and various nursing homes.
Saturday’s cleanup efforts were a chance for Union College senior Jimmy Duverseau, of Boston, to do something different.
“Knowing that I’m doing this and cleaning up the city makes me want to — instead of stay on campus on a Friday night or a Wednesday night — it makes me want to go out and explore,” he said. “There’s places that I haven’t been to still that I want to go see,” he said. “And I don’t know, if it’s clean and it’s nice I have another reason to do that.”