Landscape Architecture Professor Bob Grese retires after 34 years
After a distinguished 34-year career at the University of Michigan, Robert (Bob) Grese, professor of landscape architecture, retires in 2020. Grese, who joined the SEAS (then the School for Natural Resources) faculty in 1986, has taught well over a thousand students in courses emphasizing ecological design and landscape analysis, participatory design, ecological restoration, planting design, and design history and theory. Former students are found in leadership positions at professional firms, in government agencies, and academia across the U.S. and around the world.
For the past 21 years, Grese has also served as Director of the U-M’s Nichols Arboretum, and has been the director of the combined Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum since 2004.
Among his many awards and recognitions, Grese was recognized in spring, 2016, by the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) as an ASLA Fellow for his exceptional contribution to the landscape architecture profession and society at large. Nomination to the ASLA Council of Fellows is among the highest honor ASLA bestows. In an article published in June, 2019, the ASLA wrote:
“[Grese’s] research and teaching emphasize an interest in community, an appreciation of landscape heritage, the restoration of environmental integrity, and the building of connections between people and landscape. These themes are also emphasized in his leadership at Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum, transforming the properties for both university and community enjoyment. An advocate for ecological design, emphasizing regionally native flora, he has also researched themes in environmental stewardship, building a deeper understanding of the benefits gained from participating in volunteer stewardship programs and the motivations that keep volunteers engaged. His book Jens Jensen: Maker of Natural Parks and Gardens reawakened many to Jensen’s advocacy for a regional approach to landscape design.”
In 2019, Grese was also recognized by the Council of Educators in Landscape Architecture (CELA) as a CELA Fellow for his many accomplishments as a landscape architecture educator.
INTERVIEW WITH PROFESSOR GRESE: In December, 2019, Professor Grese shared his thoughts on camera. In this video except, he reflects on his career, his plans for the future, and on the unique role of landscape architects in our changing world.
“I think landscape architecture has a very important and critical future ahead of it, particularly in the face of a changing climate. Our cities, our communities, our landscape at large are facing tremendous pressures. As a profession, landscape architects hold a variety of skills that can put them in a leadership role in helping to shape that future and to help communities be more resilient, to create livable spaces, restore some ecological integrity to the landscape, and just help us adjust to the kinds of changes that are moving forward." - Bob Grese
The following colleagues and former students shared their appreciation for Professor Grese. A virtual celebration honors his contributions on June 24, 2020.
- SARA HADAVI (PhD ’15), ASLA, Assistant Professor of Landscape Architecture and Regional & Community Planning, College of Architecture, Planning and Design, Kansas State University
- MARYCAROL HUNTER, Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture, SEAS
- RACHEL KAPLAN, Professor Emerita of Environment and Behavior, SEAS; Professor of Psychology, College of Literature, Sciences, and the Arts
- JOAN IVERSON NASSAUER, Professor of Landscape Architecture, SEAS
- KIMBERLY B. PHALEN (PhD ’11), Phalen Research Associates (Research and Consulting in Environmental Psychology)
- KEN POLAKOWSKI, Professor Emeritus of Landscape Architecture, University of Michigan
- JOSEPH E. TRUMPEY, Associate Professor of Art, Environment, and Natural Resources; Director, Sustainable Living Experience, Penny W Stamps School of Art & Design; Program in the Environment, LSA, SEAS
- REBEKAH VANWIEREN (MLA, MS ’09), Associate Professor of Landscape Design, Montana State University
“Ten years ago, when I came to the University of Michigan, the first class I took was Bob’s class. It was my first experience of sitting in a LA class in the US, and it was a great one. Later he served as my doctoral committee member, and he has kept supporting me after graduation. Over all these years, his knowledge, wisdom, and work ethics, combined with his modesty and calmness have deeply impacted my life as a student, a researcher and a teacher in landscape architecture. I am always grateful for knowing Bob and for having the opportunity to learn from him.” —SARA HADAVI (PhD ’15), ASLA, Assistant Professor of Landscape Architecture and Regional & Community Planning, College of Architecture, Planning and Design, Kansas State University
“Coming to Michigan as a new faculty in 2005, I requested the office next to Bob's so there would be more chance to get to know him. Although he was often away working at the Botanical Garden, Bob frequently looked in, always with interesting information, people stories and stuff that made me laugh. And when I asked for advice, it always hit the mark. Over time, I came to know more about Bob – and one thing stands out: seeing how frequently his office held students and former students.
“Over his many decades in the School, he generated community and continuity through the generosity of time given to others. With current students (School-wide), he spends significant time in mentoring meetings and does follow up work to help everyone reach their goals. His gifts of time, energy and other forms of kindness also extend after graduation to out ever-growing body of LA alums who keep in contact with him. Simply put, Bob chooses to take time for others even when there is no time. He has been an inspiration for me.” —MARYCAROL HUNTER, Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture, SEAS
“No one would doubt that Bob Grese deserves to retire. But don’t we all deserve a “Bob clone?” Someone who is unassuming, a giant of a bridge builder, who gets things done without anyone realizing what needed doing, who never calls attention to himself but is always thoughtful about the needs of others… Someone with a huge reservoir of knowledge and wisdom, with an incredible memory for places and people along with the time frame that provides the needed context.
“Bob so graciously gives credit to others that it can be difficult to appreciate the vital role his leadership and vision have played. He has been willing not only to think audaciously, but also to act fearlessly; bureaucratic roadblocks have not stopped him from initiating many innovative projects and seeing them to completion. Thousands of people for whom the Arb or Botanical Gardens are a beloved treasure are, unknowingly, beneficiaries of Bob’s insights, leadership, and commitment.
“I too am one of those beneficiaries given Bob’s legacy with respect to MBGNA, numerous ecological restoration efforts, and his monumental influence on students, communities, and countless others who will follow in his footsteps. My gratitude to Bob, however, goes much further. He has been a deeply valued colleague for more than half of his life! During that time, Bob and I have served together on some exceptionally challenging committees and collaborated on some exciting projects. We have jointly participated in a number of student committees, including both Master’s projects and doctoral dissertations. In recent years, Bob has seen to it that we get together for lunch on a regular basis. Through these many wonderful experiences I have learned an enormous amount from Bob, both with respect to content domains and about effective decision making. I have no doubt that Bob deserves to retire and I look forward to many more years of a treasured friendship.” — RACHEL KAPLAN, Professor Emerita of Environment and Behavior, SEAS; Professor of Psychology, College of Literature, Sciences, and the Arts
“Bob Grese's work in ecological restoration has inspired generations of students and community stakeholders throughout the upper Midwest. The large and lasting ‘footprint’ of his work is apparent in landscapes we treasure in Ann Arbor and far beyond. Thank you, Bob!” —JOAN IVERSON NASSAUER, Professor of Landscape Architecture, SEAS
“Bob Grese was gracious to work with me on my PhD research and devote a semester project of one of his landscape design classes to a small experiment I was conducting on public participation in landscape design. The project involved getting feedback from the medical staff on the students' designs of a trail system in the natural areas surrounding the East Medical Buildings.
“One of my vivid memories of Bob was traipsing through the fields behind the medical building with me as we explored the site's terrain. With grasses thigh high, he didn't think twice about venturing off the beaten path and traversing the fields. His comfort in and passion for nature was remarkable, and he had a way of passing along that love of nature to his students and the community at large.
“I'll always remember the experience of participating in a prescribed burn, which made the experience of writing and reading about ecological restoration (and the importance of public engagement) that much more meaningful. I may recall hearing that he even performed prescribed burns on his native gardens at home!
“His legacy extends well beyond the walls of the classroom. His stories and experiences with community design projects involving the public, even engaging children in the design process, were not only valuable in informing my PhD research, but have been influential in the projects I've taken on to this day, 8 years later, in Texas.
“Thank you, Bob, for sharing your love of nature with everyone you meet. The whole Ann Arbor community has been blessed by your hard work over the years! I am truly grateful for your wisdom, guidance, and inspiration. Congrats on your retirement!” —KIMBERLY B. PHALEN (PhD ’11), Phalen Research Associates (Research and Consulting in Environmental Psychology)
“I wish to congratulate Bob on his retirement from the Landscape Architecture Program at the University of Michigan. As a friend and colleague, I believe his success and impact is partially due to his commitment to living the values he conveys in the classroom. Upon arrival to Ann Arbor, he raised many eyebrows when the ‘young assistant professor’ dug up his front yard lawn and planted native plants that many thought were ‘weeds.’ This action was the beginning of a career committed to designing and planning according to ecological knowledge and theory.
“Bob joined the landscape architecture faculty ready to instill and remind the faculty of the rich historical and ecological tradition of the landscape architecture profession. His scholarly endeavors focused on Jens Jensen, a prominent mid 20th century midwestern landscape architect. Jensen’s fame is based on his ecological landscape architecture design and planning approach. He had the ability to “read the landscape” and use his findings to recommend sustainable actions to meet the requirements of the proposed uses. Throughout his tenure, Bob remained committed and true to his high professional and personal values influenced by the work of Jens Jensen.
“His arrival aligned with the transition of the landscape architecture program from the College of Architecture and Urban planning to the School of Natural Resources. Bob was the perfect addition to the faculty, which was dominated by “designers and site planners” highly influenced by art and architectural theories.
“Bob brought to the landscape architecture program the needed knowledge of native ecological systems and educational strategies and the methods to convey this knowledge to the faculty and students. His sincere, low-keyed and up-beat attitude made learning an enjoyable and rewarding experience for all.
“His pioneering teaching and research helped direct the program’s philosophy which utilizes ecological knowledge and concepts in the design and site planning process. The success of the present program is a testimonial to Bob’s many contribution and dedication to the program, students and faculty.
“His appointment to the Director of Nichols Arboretum and the Matthaei Botanical Garden recognized his administrative capabilities and potential to expand the educational and research role of both facilities. As a ‘mature professor’ he continued to raise eyebrows when he not only advocated but actually led the annual burning of the beautiful meadow in Dow Field; an action based on sound ecological management practices The University of Michigan community is fortunate that Bob has instilled a landscape management approach at these unique sites that have significant research and educational relevance.” —KEN POLAKOWSKI, Professor Emeritus of Landscape Architecture, University of Michigan
“Bob is an administrator who truly cares about people and ideas. He has always made the time to meet with me, sincerely listen, and work his hardest to say yes to ideas that are not always that easy to enact. I sincerely respect that he likes to function both as a collaborator and as an administrator at the same time. He is generous, kind, and humble. He is mindful of both the team, no matter how small, and the bigger mission of the University. He understands that innovation often involves an element of risk and is willing to put faith in people and their ideas. Bob is a person who understands the important role that beauty in the world. He has worked hard to make UM and the world a better place and has succeeded. I will miss him and wish him the very best.”—JOSEPH E. TRUMPEY, Associate Professor of Art, Environment, and Natural Resources; Director, Sustainable Living Experience, Penny W Stamps School of Art & Design; Program in the Environment, LSA, SEAS
“Dr. Grese is a tireless champion of regenerating urban ecological systems, whose actions speak louder than his quiet demeanor. His devotion and advocacy for ecological restoration scholarship and implementation is infectious—the fact that his yard is a tallgrass prairie where he makes prescribed burns a neighborhood celebration—says it all. Bob has been paramount in developing an ecological design approach and ethic in my work, and in countless other landscape architecture students’ work throughout his tenure at SEAS.
“Dr. Grese has always shown exceptional care and support for students and alumni. When I was a GSI Bob treated me as an equal-collaborator and taught me many skills I now use in my own teaching. He has also continued to actively support my development in academia, for example, attending my conference presentations and promoting research projects. I am forever grateful for Bob’s persistent, genuine mentorship in my own life, but, more importantly, for his landscape legacy seen and experienced throughout the U of M campuses.” —REBEKAH VANWIEREN (MLA, MS ’09), Associate Professor of Landscape Design, Montana State University