Love of Plants Matched by Love of Students
Colorado Horticulture Teacher Retires after 25 Years
His passion for horticulture and for his students has helped inspire countless members of the landscaping community in Colorado — both in and out of the greenhouse.
Cary retired from Pickens Technical College this spring after 25 years. Talk to former students and one thing becomes abundantly clear about the man who was awarded a lifetime achievement award from the Associated Landscape Contractors of Colorado: Cary’s love for plants is only matched by his love for his students.
“It’s who he is. He’s very caring, he’s very warm,” said Shelley Kowalenko, a former student and owner of Colorado Land Escapes in Aurora. “It’s almost like you don’t want to let him down because he’s putting so much into it. You want to succeed.
“He’s priceless,” she added.
“He’s made a huge difference in lives of so many people. He’s so humble, he gets embarrassed when he gets attention. So this is probably his worst nightmare right now.”
Cary started his career at Pickens after owning his own landscaping business and teaching night classes for two years in Fort Collins. It was a love of plants and being outdoors that started him down a career path that eventually would take him to Aurora to start his full-time teaching career.
“What makes (landscaping) so special is you start with nothing. You start with an idea and when you’re done you’ve created something of worth, something beautiful,” Cary said. “You see it from nothing to the finish, and that’s where the gratification comes in.”
When Cary arrived at the school, the administration had a list of classes they wanted taught for their horticulture program — consisting of a couple of greenhouses and not much more. From that start, Cary helped turn the school’s concept into one of the best in the state, with seven greenhouses, annual plant sales and equipment serving to help students learn the skills they need to succeed in the industry.
“I tried to create a lot of humor in my classes and (provide) a lot of background experience,” Cary said. “And kids really responded and bought into the real life experiences and humor. It made it fun from the beginning.
“The first couple of years we’re just trying to keep my head above water, but after that it became more fun,” he added.
Cary said he promoted handson learning in his classroom.
Having spent his career learning from doing, he knew that a successful program would be one that got the students out of the classroom and into the greenhouses.
“The hands-on part of it is what makes this school significantly different than probably any other school in the state,” said Cary, who added that, while taking horticulture and greenhouse management at Colorado State, “I was never in the greenhouse.
“How do you learn growing crops if you’re never there? When I got out I decided that my approach was going to be a lot different,” he said. “Not that there’s anything wrong with that approach. I just think this is . the best way to learn.”
It was that real-life experience which Lauren Bloom, a former student and co-owner of Bloom Concrete and Landscaping, said helped her become a success in an industry where some professionals “don’t know the difference between a petunia and a pansy.”
But even more than the experience of pruning a tree or running a tractor, Bloom said it was Cary’s infectious love of plants — and fondness for his students — that grew in her a love for the industry that has lasted her entire life.
As example of Cary’s reach beyond his standard job duties, Bloom recalled how her teacher helped land her first job, not just by helping with the job search and writing a resume, but making phone calls on her behalf and even steering her clear of a job that he didn’t feel fit her right.
“He knew me well enough, and cared about me enough, that he knew what the right position was for me to take,” Bloom said. “He’d stay two or three hours after a night class to help me understand a lesson. That was the effort he’d put in for his students.
“He was always so proud of the work his students would do,” she added. “He had genuine excitement for his students and their work.”
When Cary hears about the lasting effect he’s had on his students over the years, and the love he’s inspired in them for plants, he said her remembers why he started teaching in the first place, two-and-a-half decades ago.
“I’m overwhelmed and gratified, I guess. Happy,” he said. “Student success is what it’s all about.
“That’s really why you come back and teach every year.”
Information from: The Aurora Sentinel, http://www.aurorasentinel.com/