GLENDALE, S.C. — Like many retirees, Mike Ayers and John Lane ’77 often spend their time mowing grass. Plenty of that grass is associated with Wofford College, too.
Ayers, who coached the Terrier football team for 30 years before retiring in 2017, and Lane, who taught English and environmental studies for 32 years, have spent the past 18 months volunteering at the Wofford Preserve. The preserve is 200 acres in Glendale that includes the Goodall Environmental Studies Center. They volunteer weekly and spend anywhere between an hour and four hours per visit at the preserve.
They clear trails, build bog bridges, remove litter, mow grass and cut trees. In fact, Lane has named Ayers the vice president of chain saw art.
“There’s always a tree to cut,” says Ayers of the three to four miles of trails on the property.
Ayers and Lane often enjoyed lunch together over the years. They sometimes talked football, touched base about student-athletes, politics and all the other things friends talk about.
“I’ve always appreciated Mike’s mind and how he could work problems out,” says Lane. “He would look at the football field and determine what we could get and how we could compete, and I knew he would have the same approach out here.”
Lane was the first director for the Goodall Center, which opened in 2009 when the environmental studies program began. He served in that role until his retirement last spring. Three years ago, the preserve started to take shape with the college’s lease of 100 acres from the Tyger River Foundation and property owned by a family. It’s a place for students, faculty and staff to conduct research and study the environment, but it also provided additional land that would need regular maintenance.
Lane secured grant money to pay student workers to clear trails and build bridges during the summers. Dr. George Tyson ’72, a passionate supporter of the college’s environmental studies program, suggested that he reach out to Ayers for assistance. The former coach has always enjoyed the outdoors. Together Lane and Ayers have supervised student workers and just for fun taken on many of the jobs themselves.
They don’t start the morning sitting on a tailgate of a pickup truck sipping coffee. They get straight to work. Lane often sends a text at the beginning of the week to gauge Ayers’ availability. They determine what projects to take on and what tools they’ll bring.
There’s also a list of future projects, including the building of a bird blind so people can observe the preserve’s wetlands.
“I don’t know what we would do without them,” says Dr. Kaye Savage, professor of environmental studies and director of the Goodall Environmental Studies Center. “The maintenance they’re doing is so important to ensure we have good access.”
Ayers has enjoyed exposure to another aspect of the college.
“When I was coaching, I was coaching,” says Ayers. “That’s a 24/7 job even during the offseason. You get into a mindset of there’s a certain amount of time to get the job done and we did our best not to have any distractions and wanted to be sure we got it done.”
When Ayers isn’t volunteering in Glendale, he’s tending to his yard and painting. He started painting as an assistant coach, but it was hard to do as a Division I head football coach. He’s currently working with Prismacolor colored pencils for a piece showing the angel Gabriel visiting the Virgin Mary.
Lane, who lives near the preserve, enjoys daily walks through it, which leads to him identifying tasks that he and Ayers can tackle. When Lane’s not at the preserve, he and his wife, Betsy Teeter, are often working around their cabin in the Western North Carolina mountains. His days consist of a lot of reading and writing. He recently celebrated having a new novel published, and more books are in the works. A one-act play that he wrote 30 years ago will be performed virtually by the Spartanburg Little Theater in November.
Although Ayers and Lane enjoy retirement, they can’t imagine not being actively involved with the college.
“I’ll always be connected to Wofford,” says Ayers. “You spend that long at one place, and it becomes part of you. My wife was a teacher who taught in Spartanburg for 30 years. We were able to raise our family in Spartanburg and at Wofford. There was so much that I was given, and there’s a need to give back.”
“I couldn’t imagine ever not being connected (to Wofford) in some form,” says Lane. “Some people say find a need and fill it. I think it’s find a need and be filled by it.”
They’re also having fun.
“When I’ve gone out, they’re clearly having a good time,” says Savage.