Greg Smith Memorial Garden: Campus Site Pays Tribute to Professor of Geography and Activist
Overcome with emotion, June Burlingame Smith welcomed the assembled audience of her
late husband’s colleagues, students, friends and family to the dedication of the
Greg Smith Memorial Garden at California State University, Dominguez Hills on Feb. 23.
“I could not have done this without all of you,” she said to those gathered for the dedication that was held at the site of the garden, located at the southwest corner of the Social and Behavorial Sciences (SBS) building on campus.“Greg wanted a place for students and the community to come together that would connect them to nature and get them away from the stress and hustle and bustle of everyday life. A piece of you is here too; this isn’t just Greg’s garden. It’s for the whole community, for us and our memories [of him] that we not only cherish, but act on.”
Greg Smith, professor of geography at CSU Dominguez Hills from 1968 to 1992, died in
1997. During his tenure, he passed on a love and respect for nature to his students,
many of whom work in conservation-related fields today. On his field trips throughout
Los Angeles, he shared with them an awareness of how urban issues affected the natural
world and what could be done so that both worlds could exist in harmony.
Smith championed environmental causes in his community of San Pedro and throughout
Los Angeles County, serving as an alternate on the California Coastal Commission for
Councilwoman Ruth Galanter, who was the South Coast region commissioner in the 1970s.
Smith was also a member of the Los Angeles Tree Commission and founder and longtime
president of the Point Fermin Residents Association in San Pedro. In 1991, Smith
encouraged San Pedro residents to plant discarded Christmas trees at Angels Gate Park,
resulting in the Greg Smith Conifer Grove, which now contains 300 trees of 13 varieties.
David Sigurdson, emeritus professor of earth sciences, remembered his colleague as
someone who was ahead of the times in his strong commitment to environmental and
conservation issues in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
“At that time, the environmental movement was just growing,” he said. “I think that
Greg would be completely in tune with everything that’s going on today. Even in those days,
he was very interested in the environment. I think it’s a very fitting tribute.”
In the program, Smith was also remembered by his former colleagues Donald MacPhee,
emeritus vice president of Academic Affairs, and Judd Grenier, emeritus professor of
history, who both reminisced about the early days of Dominguez Hills and Smith’s arrival
on campus as a founding member of the geography faculty.
“This brings back wonderful memories of a time over 40 years ago when some of us were
given a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to share in shaping a new college in this place,”
said MacPhee to the crowd gathered in the SBS courtyard.
President Mildred García expressed her regrets at not having had the opportunity to know
Greg Smith and extended her thanks on behalf of the university to the Smith family for its
gift of beautification to the CSU Dominguez Hills campus.
“I say thank you on behalf of our students, our university, our faculty and staff, [to] June
and your family, for doing this for us,” she said. “It’s families like yours who come
and give back to the university in so many ways. You don’t forget us. You’re really part of
the fabric of this institution.”
Working with landscape architects Mia Lehrer and Associates, Smith’s family was able to
capture his bond with nature in the Memorial Garden. Granite stonework symbolizes his love
of mountain climbing and interest in Celtic design, while an abundance of trees pay tribute
to his grandparents who helped establish Eagle Rock, Idaho in the 1860s, bringing 1,000 trees
to the barren prairie. Gingko trees recall Greg and June’s days at Reed College, where they first met,
in Portland, Ore., while a bamboo grove is a reminder of Smith’s trips to China and Japan, that complements the CSUDH Japanese Garden.
Originally completed last fall, the Greg Smith Memorial Garden was damaged in October 2007 when
a water main broke near the SBS building, flooding the area and the newly completed garden. June
Smith introduced representatives of Physical Plant, director Randy Sharp and assistant director
and chief engineer Steve Richards, planner, estimator and scheduler, and thanked them for their
unit’s efforts in restoring the garden in a timely manner.
“You can make all the plans, write the checks,” she pointed out, “but if you don’t have the people
who put the spades in the ground and look at the details, and say, ‘No, that isn’t right, do it over
again,’ it doesn’t come out as well.”
In her welcome to the assembled guests, Gilia Smith expressed her pride in her father and his deep
regard for all those who knew him.
“I was proud of my dad,” she said. “He was able and willing to do a lot of things, not just for himself
and his family. He was someone with a great love of community and had a fierce passion for conserving
and maintaining access to public spaces so that people from all different walks of life could gather
together and enjoy that community. It is our hope that this garden, designed with Dad in mind, will
contribute to the larger sense of community on this campus.”
The Greg Smith Memorial Garden was made possible by private contributions. For information on becoming
a supporter of the Greg Smith Memorial Garden, contact Greg Saks, interim vice president of University
Advancement at (310) 243-3955.
- Joanie Harmon
Photos above: Nestled between the Social and Behavioral Sciences and Natural Science and Mathematics (NSM) buildings, the Greg Smith Memorial Garden provides a natural refuge from the bustle of campus life.
June Smith thanks the Dominguez Hills community, family and friends for their support of the Greg Smith Memorial Garden at the site's dedication on Feb. 23.
Photos by GK