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Community garden

31 May


When Spencer Crews arrived in Omaha, Neb., to oversee what would become Lauritzen Gardens botanical center, he found 70 acres of vacant fields and the rudimentary beginnings of a rose garden.

But Spencer had a passion for what that land could become.

That was 17 years ago, and the 1980 landscape architecture grad was the gardens’ first executive director. A St. Louis native, Spencer had worked as chair of the Department of Horticulture at East Central College in Union, Mo., and as manager of horticulture for Powell Gardens near Kansas City.

At the fledgling Omaha garden, Spencer led the transition of the botanical center from a small, volunteer-based project to a multifaceted, revenue-generating, event-driven facility. The process took many years, first to fundraise and then to implement. But throughout the process, the key was listening to community leaders.

“We collaborated with the community to build something they wanted,” he said.

With a $30 million investment in infrastructure and the addition of 30 more acres, the gardens took off. Spencer and fellow Iowa State landscape architecture grad Chad Grimm (’89) shared a vision and an aesthetic that would create a botanical garden with a deep sense of place.

“We wanted to capture our part of the country,” Spencer said.

Indeed, the Song of the Lark Meadow is reminiscent of Nebraska’s wildflower-filled prairies. The arboretum and bird sanctuary feature regional plant communities, native grasses, and Midwestern bird species. A model railroad garden has direct ties to Omaha’s railroad history. A woodland trail winds through a native hardwood community.

Lauritzen Gardens continues to expand, with a multi-million-dollar, 20,000-square-foot conservatory currently under construction.

Spencer is clearly delighted by the community’s support of the gardens, and he is especially gratified when he sees children visiting with their parents and grandparents.

“It’s an intergenerational experience,” he says of the gardens. “Influencing and exposing your kids to nature at a young age is so important. It’s a memorable experience that stays with them their whole life.”

Family practice

27 Dec


Peter Bashara grew up in his father’s veterinary clinic. As a sixth grader, he cleaned kennels after school and did other jobs around the Omaha animal hospital.

Everyone asked him the same thing: Are you going to grow up and become a vet like your dad?

Peter always said no.

Until one day in junior high school when he finally said yes.

Today Peter doesn’t remember that encounter, but his dad does. And now Peter can’t imagine doing anything else.

Dr. T. Robert “Bob” Bashara (’63 DVM) founded the Mapleview Animal Clinic in 1965. He practiced alone for 17 years before hiring a second associate veterinarian. In 1985, he expanded the practice to a second clinic, Candlewood, on Blondo Street in Omaha. His third clinic – a state-of-the-art animal hospital at 153rd and Maple on Omaha’s west side – opened in 1999. All three clinics are now known as Gentle Doctor Animal Hospitals.

Dr. Peter Bashara (’93 animal science, ’97 DVM) followed his father’s lead and attended Iowa State, but with a slightly different experience.

“His education and classes were so much different,” Bob says. “I was taught in the old building [the veterinary quadrangle now known as Lagomarcino Hall]. We had 47 graduates in my class, and no women.”

Bob was a veterinary trailblazer in the early days. “I was thrown to the fire with nobody to bounce things off of,” he says of his solo practice.

Peter’s entry into the business in 1997 was far more smooth. “I had instantaneous credibility because of my name. I never suffered from [clients asking], ‘Who are you? How old are you?’ If I hadn’t done this, it would have been a colossal mistake.”

Bob says his son’s decision to join the practice convinced him to expand to a third clinic, and it gave him peace of mind.

“When Peter decided he wanted to come back, I thought it was great,” he says. “I had hoped that he would want to take over the practice. It was perfect for me. It took the burden off my shoulders about what to do when I retire. Now Peter is the main man.”

Both veterinarians are active in their professions. In 2007, Peter received the Midlands Business Journal’s “40 Under 40” award. He works with the Nebraska Humane Society and the Animal Emergency Clinic. Bob is actively involved with the national Doris Day Animal Foundation, for which he serves as the chief financial officer.

The business transition from father to son has been nothing but smooth, they both agree.

“I had a philosophy of practice to provide really good care for animals with really good customer service, and to always be there when they need me,” Bob says. “I had a following of devoted clients. I worried, ‘Will someone else carry on that tradition?’”

There’s no doubt: Thanks to son Peter and Iowa State, the answer is YES.