BROOKINGS, S.D. – For nearly 30 years, David Graper, SDSU Extension horticulture specialist and Master Gardener Program coordinator, has shared his horticulture knowledge and enthusiasm with South Dakotans.

On April 26, all are invited to celebrate his contributions during a retirement event held on the campus of South Dakota State University at the McCrory Gardens Education & Visitors Center (631 22nd Ave.). The event runs from 3 to 5:30 p.m. with a program beginning at 3:30 p.m.

“Truly an example of the land grant mission, throughout his career, Dave has actively served South Dakotans through outreach, education and research,” said Karla Trautman, SDSU Extension interim director. “Under his leadership, South Dakota’s Master Gardener program has blossomed. The more than 500 active, trained volunteers sharing horticulture knowledge with their communities across the state are a great testament to his efforts and passion for advancement of horticulture throughout the state.”

When Graper began his career at SDSU in 1990, one of his focuses was rejuvenating the state’s Master Gardener program. Graper brought the program into compliance with national standards and built it into the high-caliber, educational, training program it is today.

To become a Master Gardener, participants must complete an eight-week, intensive class course, and then volunteer at least 50 hours to sharing their knowledge with their community over the following two years.

In any given year, South Dakota Master Gardeners volunteer up to 14,000 hours. If a dollar amount were to be placed on these hours, Graper said it would be more than $287,000 in service to South Dakotans.

“Master Gardeners is a great example of the multiplier effect. Each volunteer shares their knowledge with tens, hundreds, even thousands of South Dakotans,” said Graper of volunteers who share information through radio shows, news columns, workshops and answering lawn and gardening questions at their local SDSU Extension Regional Center or County Office. “I’m proud that we have taken a modest program and turned into something that does so much more.”

In an effort to maximize the spread of horticulture information, along with hands-on workshops and classroom instruction, Graper shared research-based, tried-and-true information through news columns, and for more than 18 years, he answered horticulture questions on the television show, GardenLine.

More about David Graper

Reflecting on what motivated his passion for horticulture, Graper credits his mom, Beverly. “I’ve been a plant geek since I was a little guy helping my mom in the big garden on our Wisconsin farm,” Graper said. “My mother taught me how to cook and use the produce. She also had flower gardens around the farm, and I enjoyed working with those plants, enjoying their beauty and fragrance.”

Graper received his bachelor’s in plant science with an emphasis horticulture from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. He received a master’s in horticulture from Colorado State University and began working at SDSU following the completion of a PhD in horticulture from the University of Maryland.

He says it was the campus size and community of Brookings that wooed him, and the working relationships with colleagues, students and gardeners across the state that held his attention.

“I really enjoy working with plants and the people involved with plants…Gardeners around here have to try harder because of our climate,” Graper explains. “When I see those living in northwestern part of the state, dealing with challenging soil, challenging weather and still have gardens, it says a lot to the dedication they have to gardening and horticulture. It’s fun to work with those kinds of people.”

Graper enjoys sharing his passion for horticulture, “watching those green light bulbs go off when people hear how plants work and learn about their diversity. It’s always fun to see others enjoy the beauty, fragrance and appreciate the fact that plants also produce food for us.”

And, Graper found many opportunities to educate, whether it was as a professor, through his work with SDSU Extension, Master Gardeners and McCrory Gardens. He has been instrumental in the design, development and programming of the McCrory Gardeners Educational and Visitors Center, botanical gardens on the campus of SDSU.

Today, he remains in contact with SDSU graduates who are working in the industry of horticulture throughout the U.S. and across the globe. “Many have done extremely well. It makes me so proud. Especially since I don’t have any children of my own. I feel like they are my kids, and they are continuing the process of making an impact for horticulture.”

Throughout his tenure, Graper also worked with colleagues and stakeholders to increase the quality of horticulture facilities on campus. In addition to McCrory Gardens, SDSU is home to several greenhouses and the Local Foods Education Center.

“Horticulture touches our lives in so many ways – everyday. I’ve enjoyed getting to be a part of that and enlighten people’s views on horticulture has been a real joy for me over the years,” said Graper, who explains he is retiring early due to his need to focus his energy on his on-going battle with cancer.

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