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Burton S. Sperber, FASLA 1929 - 2011

By George Schmok

Issue to issue, month to month, I never know what will happen to shape the contents of this column. This month, unfortunately, is another example of that truth. I was poised to write about the GIE and TLE shows, new trends in the industry and how the hope for a better next year could shape the future . . . And then . . .

On September 30, 2011 the landscape industry suddenly lost one of its true pioneers, one of its true leaders, and definitely one of the top success stories in the nation. Burton S. Sperber, FASLA, was the founder of Valley Crest, in all of its forms, and built an empire with a shovel, pickup truck and a loyal family that grew to include those who worked for and with him for decades.

The loss of Mr. Sperber to the landscape industry is like the loss of Steve Jobs to the world of the PDA. Hardly a single member of this great industry has had the same level of impact, and hardly a single member of this great industry has not, in some way, been affected by Mr. Sperber's presence. This magazine might not be in front of you today if Mr. Sperber had not paid for an entire year's worth of advertising, up front, with the very first issue of Landscape Architect and Specifier News back in 1985.

Mr. Sperber's benevolence transcended his company. His generosity was legendary in the industry, and yet subtle in such a way as to highlight the recipient more than the provider.

Countless employees, past and present, have taken his lead in elevating the industry to new heights of ethics, workmanship, innovation and respect. Even those who left the company have good things to say about the company's leader and its leadership in the industry.

I was fortunate enough to sit with and interview Mr. Sperber and his son Richard about a year ago, and I can tell you that he was very much involved with the growth and direction of the company and the projects in front of him.

His passing is one of those “What's Next?” moments, where the future now looks uncertain. Not for his company, though, as it is almost certain that Valley Crest will be a strong company moving forward. Mr. Sperber had his son under his wing and out in front, and the people of that great company are some of the most disciplined, organized and well trained individuals in any industry.

No . . . Mr. Sperber didn't build one of the most successful companies in the nation by not planning ahead . . . He just left too soon . . .

The uncertainty doesn't come from not knowing the direction we are going, because the path that he led was straight and clear. The uncertainty comes from not having that anchor, that foundation, that bank of wisdom, of what to do next, based on experience and hard earned knowledge.

The one thing that is certain, though, is that we are all better off today because of the works, wisdom and leadership of Burton S. Sperber.

Still, there is so much to say about his life and impact that I could not possibly fit it into this space. Please turn to page 8 in this issue to read more about his extraordinary life and accomplishments. After that turn to Google and read even more about this great man.

If you are in this industry, you were affected by this great leader, and if you are serious about this industry, you should take the time to learn from whence you come. If you do, you will read about a great man. A man that will be missed . . .

Rest in Peace Mr. Sperber . . . and God Bless . . .

George Schmok, Publisher

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December 14, 2019, 7:48 am PDT

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