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Moment of Silence for Helen Quackenbush, FASLA

Tribute by Roy Dunn, President, Roy Dunn & Associates, Inc., Medford, N.J.

Important to Helen Quackenbush, FASLA, was ASLA President Ray Freeman (1972) asking her to head a committee to advance Women in Landscape Architecture (WOLA). Helen was at her best as mentor, subtly exerting her influence to introduce and guide women in the profession. She was recognized by WOLA in the early '90s as a key contributor to the formation of the group.

Helen Quackenbush was born December 19, 1920 in Towanda, Pa. Her father, secretary of education for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, moved the family of six (two brothers and two sisters) to a 15-fifteen-acre farm along the Susquehanna River across from Three Mile Island, just south of Harrisburg, Pa. The family began a business growing gladiolus and produce to sell at their own market and other local markets. Helen developed her love of the land here, doing farm work, running the tractor and promoting the business.

Helen attended Penn State University, and attained a BS in Landscape Architecture in 1942. She was the only woman in the program. Her older brother, who had taken over running the farm, went to fight in WWII; Helen ran the family business in his absence for the next four years.

For the next 12 years, Helen had design and project management responsibilities in a number of multidisciplinary firms in the Philadelphia/Harrisburg area. The work included residential, college campuses and parks. Helen gained direct experience with other design disciplines and successful completion of projects, as well as establishing herself as a strong force in the design and planning field.

In 1958, Helen began working with the Girl Scouts of America in New York City as a consultant, then as a landscape architect and director of camp planning services. She did planning and gave technical assistance to Girl Scout Councils across the U.S. Helen instituted year-round regional training and technical assistance for local councils, with an emphasis on natural resource preservation and conservation. Helen formally left her position with the Girl Scouts in 1967, but worked with them throughout her career, often as a volunteer.

Helen joined ASLA in the early '70s, about the time she moved back to Harrisburg and began working for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania through the department of community affairs as the landscape architect for park development; chief of grants in the aid division for the bureau of recreation and conservation; director of community development, technical assistance; and chief recreation services division over seeing planning for state and municipal parks.

Helen was also the planner for statewide recreation and leisure services. After the 1972 flood from Hurricane Agnes, Helen oversaw the distribution of $250 million in state and federal aid to restore state and local parks.

Helen retired from the Commonwealth in 1983, but continued as a consultant into the early '90s. She was a licensed landscape architect in Pa., Maryland and New York. Helen devoted considerable time to the ASLA Penn. Chapter: secretary (1971 to 1975), section chair (1975-1976) and trustee (1981-1987). Helen was elected an ASLA Fellow in 1981. In 1988, Helen was elected national vice president of membership services.

In 1990, Helen was awarded the ASLA President's Medal given to one outstanding member of each year for "unparalleled contribution to the profession of Landscape Architecture through outstanding dedication and untiring service to the Society."

Over the years she was a steadfast member of Common Cause in Pennsylvania. When she moved to New Jersey in the '90s she became a member of the Alice Paul Institute (API). Paul (1885-1977) was a noted suffragist. The institute promotes full gender equality. API purchased Alice Paul's old homestead, Paulsdale in Mt Laurel, N.J. Helen worked with the institute to develop a master plan of the six-acre property, and to identify the flora that should remain.

In nominating Helen for an Alumni Achievement Award at Penn State, Eliza Pennypacker, head of the Landscape Architecture program described Helen's work qualities as "personal commitment, activism, contribution and service."

Helen Quackenbush's resume is not filled with high-profile designs or moments. Instead, she devoted her career to quietly, but forcefully improve everything she touched, whether educating the public on good community design or resource preservation, or through policy development within ASLA. "My participation in seeking recognition has not been for myself - just pushing and encouraging others to do so," she said.

Helen affected change throughout her life. Whether you knew her as a friend, colleague or mentor, a part of Helen became a part of you, and we're all better for having known her. Her love for the profession of landscape architecture and women's rights is her legacy. For those she touched, she'll remain a handprint on our hearts, forever.

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June 27, 2019, 2:03 am PDT

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