Though the traditional date of founding for the Botanic Gardens is considered to be 1963, the "seed" for a botanical garden at U. C. Riverside was actually planted in 1954. Then, Botany Professor Victor Goodman from Missouri found himself unfamiliar with western plants and without a local botanical garden to learn from and use in teaching. Dr. Frank Vasek joined the University in 1954 and was appointed to spearhead the quest for a garden. In 1962, funds were finally allocated to begin the development of what was then called the "Life Sciences Experimental Area".
In 1957, after some controversy, 37 acres of land were selected and set aside for the project. Dr. Vasek became the first Director in 1962, oversaw the first plantings in 1963, and continued as Director until 1967. Dennis Kucera was hired as the first Gardens Manager in late 1962 to begin the actual development and maintenance of the new garden. From 1967 to 1973, Dr. George Gillett headed the garden as Mr. Kucera continued its physical development. It was at the beginning of Dr. Gillett's direction that the "Life Sciences Experimental Area" became the UCR Botanic Gardens. Also at this time, one more employee, Mr. Norman Sheppeard, was added, bringing the staff to two to install and maintain the plantings. A number of important improvements were made to the Gardens during Dr. Gillette's charge, including asphalting the main drive and constructing several bridges, the pond, and the office and garage.
1973 to 1981 brought the leadership of Dr. Louis Erickson. Dr. Erickson encouraged and developed community involvement in the Gardens by installing display and specialty plantings. He began to keep the Gardens open on weekends, two Sundays a month. It was due to his inspiration and influence, that community members John Babbage, Frank Hagen and Grant Carner became interested in starting a "friends" support group. The Friends of UCRBG was established in 1980 and has been a crucial aid to the continued development of the Gardens ever since. It was also through Dr. Erickson's influence that the entrance Gatehouse and restrooms, the Conference Room and the greenhouse were funded and constructed. Dr. Giles Waines took the helm in 1981 and remains Director at the time of this writing. Dr. Erickson continues as an active advisor and volunteer.
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