Nov. 13, 1921 - Dec. 19, 2008
James Wessel Gerdemann died Dec. 19, 2008. He was born Nov. 13, 1921, in Pendleton, Mo., to Carl Gerdemann and Cora Wessel.
From an early age Jim had a passion for growing plants. He had an extensive cactus collection, which he would put in the cellar during winters. Jim attended a one-room school and the local high school, graduating at sixteen. He then went to work at the store owned by his father and uncle, which had been in family hands for about 90 years. On buying trips to St. Louis, his father dropped him off at the Missouri Botanical Garden. Jim was not destined to be a storekeeper.
To earn his way at the University of Missouri, he lived cheaply at a co-op house, waited tables at the girls' college and worked at the university's herbarium. In summers, Jim worked in the forests of Oregon, controlling White Pine Blister Rust, a fungal disease. There he gained an appreciation of the climate and native flora of Oregon.
He graduated from the university with a Bachelor and Master of Arts in botany and then obtained a student assistantship at the University of California at Berkeley. There he was advised to pursue his doctorate in plant pathology. After graduation, he was offered a position at University of Illinois at Champaign-
There Jim met Janice Olbrich, and they were married July 2, 1949. They had three sons, and the family traveled often to Oregon for camping and hiking.
Jim's career blossomed and he is known worldwide for his research in mycorrhiza fungi. He showed that this fungus benefitted many plant families, including forest trees in Oregon. Several of his graduate students based their own careers on carrying on this research. He was also an excellent teacher, as is evidenced by his students nominating him for one of the university's first teaching awards. With the prize money, he bought a greenhouse. Soon after, he won a research award that paid for cutting a hole in the bottom level of the family's home and for erecting the green house. This enabled him to grow plants year-round.
How the family enjoyed this little oasis!
Jim and Janice traveled extensively, going to New Zealand, France, England and the Shetland Islands with their Mycorrhiza friends.
In 1981, after 30 years at the university, Jim retired. The Gerdemanns packed up and moved to Yachats, where they purchased an acre of spruce hemlock bordering the Siuslaw National Forest, built their home, and began developing a botanical garden.
Today that garden has grown to almost four acres and is a treasure of biological diversity with exotic plants not ordinarily grown in this region, native species, and hybrids developed by Jim to survive in the coastal climate. The garden is also an attraction that draws people from around the world, as well as a special place of beauty and serenity where the public has always been welcome to stroll along meandering paths, enjoy the sparkle of a blooming rhododendron or the unexpected sight of a tropical palm, and marvel at the extraordinary range of plants that grow in this sheltered glen just a few blocks from the Pacific.
An irrevocable conservation easement has been established to ensure the entire Gerdemann Botanical Garden will remain intact, preserved as a living legacy. To celebrate this achievement, April 12, 2008, was declared Gerdemann Day in Yachats with speeches, displays, and tours of the garden.
Jim is survived by his wife, Janice; his three sons, Steve, Dale and Glenn; two grandsons, Ben and Alex; three granddaughters Myra, Greta and Stella; brother Paul, and many more relatives and friends.
In lieu of flowers, tax deductible contributions for the Gerdemann Botanical Garden Endowment Fund may be made to View the Future, P.O. Box 443, Yachats, OR 97498. To learn more about the garden, see http://gerdemanngarden.org/">http://gerdemanngarden.org/
A celebration of Jim's life will be at 1 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 4, at the Yachats Commons.
Services are entrusted into the care of Affordable Burial & Cremation Co. of Newport.