I seeds for my career in destination marketing were planted during the first 33 months of the 1970s, while working my way through BYU in a windowless below-ground level nook of the administration building, situated next door to the dispatchers for campus police.
Universities are microcosms of communities, and I’ll explain later how this was also when the seeds were planted for me about the importance of community appearance including a passion for trees.
Back then we were a staff of two, then three, and later four or five of us who handled campus tours, administered the president’s box during football games and actively marketed the campus across the nation as a site for camps, workshops, summer youth conferences and events which included assisting their production.
My job title was conference coordinator. The Office of Tours and Conferences back then fell under the director of University Relations, a division that fell under University Communications which had been headed until the year prior by the late Dr. Stephen R. Covey, then only 36 years old.
I quickly earned a supervisory role, and following a detour for law school, this experience would anchor what would become a 40-year career as a community-destination marketing executive for communities in Washington, Alaska and North Carolina.
The general idea of the then-Office of Tours and Conferences was to fuel demand for campus food services, housing and campus facilities to sustain year round employment and to engage professors and grad students during what were at the time very low volume summer school sessions.
Apparently the ground-work paid off because as I graduated it was spun off and today there is an entire three story visitor center (a tower of which is shown in this blog) located at the main campus entrance devoted to tours, public affairs, alumni affairs, guest relations, reunions, community relations and even a speakers bureau etc.
Up the hill north and east of Lavell Edwards Stadium is now a dedicated conference center where staff still in continuing education now coordinate and produce workshops, camps, special events and professional and association meetings.
It is a long ways from that basement hovel, but the most remarkable physical transformation since I graduated is the presence now of incredible landscaping and towering trees, part of a makeover that was initiated just as I left.
One of my last classes at BYU was a field botany class during the early summer session focused on trees. BYU has always been a top undergraduate research university so my professor for the class taught us much more about the value of trees than just how to identify various species.
While I was growing up, BYU had undergone a tremendous building boom that had expanded the number of buildings from 6 to nearly 300 on a relatively flat plateau in the shadows of Y Mountain, a peak in the the Wasatch Range of the central Rocky Mountains.
The campus was manicured and grassed but found lacking at the time in overall landscaping, especially trees. This was not lost on two other people as I graduated in August of 1972 including Roy Peterman, a classmate, and fellow-Idaho native Jack Wheatley and his wife Mary Lois who as I graduated were just dropping off their eldest son for his first semester.
Peterman and I graduated from the same department, he in psychology and me in history but we each found our 40-year careers while working for the university part-time. He worked in grounds keeping becoming director in 1978, I found my calling in community-destination marketing. Both involve fostering and preserving sense of place including scenic character.
The Wheatley’s are more contemporary with our respective parents. Jack was born in Pocatello, at the opposite end of the fault line of my youth. He and his late wife built a business in Palo Alto, California in residential and then commercial real estate including construction of buildings on the campus of Stanford University there.
Neither had ties to BYU. He graduated from West Point and she from arch-rival University of Utah. But by the time they dropped their eldest son off to attend BYU, they had shaped a deep appreciation not just for buildings but the extraordinary value landscaping brings not only to both the built and natural environment but to human inspiration.
Wheatley’s are the name sakes for an incredible Institution housed in the same building as the visitors center at BYU. In part, The Wheatley Institution’s purpose is to foster the teaching of ethical business behavior in universities.
They have also single-handedly donated thousands and thousands of trees to populate the 560+-acre BYU campus along with overall landscaping inspiration and design for waterways, walkways, outdoor art and natural areas that foster learning and creativity.
As a result, even though hundreds of additional buildings have been erected there since I graduated, the BYU campus has since become a spectacular example of the powerful force of biophilia on our lives.
The term was coined a decade after Jack and Mary Lois began to transform BYU’s campus with trees, art and gardens. Biophia is now the well-proven concept that scenic preservation “optimizes productivity, healing time, learning functions and community cohesion” (Go Cougars!) as well as economic development.
Jack Wheately’s understanding of the importance of natural and scenic aesthetics is unique among engineers, builders and real estate developers. He served during the Korean War with the US Army Corp of Engineers before achieving extraordinary financial success in commercial office building and leasing including R & D facilities in Silicon Valley.
Much of this occurred in the ten years before he turned his attention to scenic preservation on BYU’s campus in the early 1970s.
Maybe in part it was the influence of his wife, an art major. Maybe it came from studying the evolution of the beautiful Stanford campus, or maybe it was from meeting the needs of tech entrepreneurs who seem sensitive to the tie between creativity, innovation and natural environment.
Regardless, if we could only clone Jack and infuse all commercial developers with his humility, understanding and commitment to biophilia, maybe community’s would no longer need to seek establish minimum requirements in order to protect their sense of place and environments.