Faculty Retirement - Dr. Gary Johnson

Portrait of Professor Gary JohnsonAfter being a fixture in our department for nearly three decades, Professor Gary Johnson will be retiring from the University of Minnesota at the end of the summer. Gary was hired by the department as our Urban and Community Forestry professor in 1992. Over his career Gary built our Urban and Community Forestry program into one of the top-ranked programs of its kind, with many of its graduates now in leadership positions in higher education, government, and private industry. He has received numerous awards for his teaching, research, and outreach contributions during his career in the Department. In 2017 Gary helped the University of Minnesota’s Urban and Community Forestry program become one of only four programs accredited under the Society of American Foresters Urban Forestry standard.

Much of Gary’s success in elevating our Urban and Community Forestry program has been his ability to develop relationships with federal, state, and municipal forestry agencies, private tree care firms, arborists, and land-care professionals. There is hardly a city forester, tree inspector, or arborist in the state who hasn’t interacted with Gary through one of his workshops, seminars, or field demonstrations. His reach goes beyond the professional community. He’s given countless talks to lay audiences. If you attend the Minnesota State Fair, you may have heard him speak at the Sustainability Stage on various tree care topics.

One of the state’s premier urban and community forestry events is the annual Shade Tree Short Course (STSC). When Gary joined our department, the stsc was a small, local annual meeting. Over the years, Gary transformed into a regional conference with annual attendance exceeding 1,000. For the first time in 58 years, this year’s STSC was cancelled due to COVID-19. Although he won’t be leading next year’s conference, Gary is currently working with the planning committee to organize the 2021 STSC.

“Gary has had a great career in forest resources and has been a wonderful colleague. He has done so much to build the reputation of our Urban and Community Forestry program. We’ll miss him (well, maybe not some of his practical jokes) and wish him the best in retirement,” says Forest Resources Department Head, Mike Kilgore.

When asked about his plans for retirement, Gary said, “I have a lot of friends and colleagues around the country that I’m going to reconnect with and mooch off for a while. I’m still completing a few research projects that I hope to publish somewhere. The Onion has contacted me about publishing most of them, and I’m flattered. I will continue my ongoing battle with invasive and aggressive plants along the Cannon River; riverbank grape, prickly-ash, and buckthorn. Honeysuckle, if you’re reading this, you’ve been warned. I have a goal of bicycling every Rails-to-Trails trail in the country before I become part of the A-horizon. I’m going to get back into woodworking, which was my joy for many, many years. I’m also interested in several volunteer projects around Minnesota, including trail maintenance on the Cannon Valley Trail.”

We are currently interviewing candidates for Gary’s replacement, and hope to have the new Urban and Community Forestry faculty position filled by the start of fall semester. Gary’s retirement will mark a change in our urban and community forestry program. We will be forever grateful for the foundation he has built and the reputation he has cultivated in his long and storied career.

Professor Gary Johnson showing 4 bystanders the roots of a small tree“I first met Gary on a project when I was doing my undergraduate work in horticulture, and he was my advisor in graduate school. He is one of the most accessible teachers I’ve ever encountered. He’s so humble, and he has this kind of egalitarianism to his approach. He’s always asking, How does this apply to the average practitioner? How can I convey it to them in a way that is respectful and useful?” He knows when to check in and when to back off. He knows how to give you space when you need it, even if you didn’t know that’s what you needed at the time. He gives you the space and support you need to grow. The amount of care and concern he has for his constituents is unparalleled. He respects every stakeholder and every student. He remembers everyone’s name.” Chad Giblin — friend, colleague, and graduate advisee.