Pay it forward

Rick Doesburg was part of and ran a successful landscaping business for decades, but it’s his contribution to younger generations that meant the most to him.

Rick Doesburg recalls the first time he handed a $1,000 scholarship to a student preparing for a career in the green industry. Only one year prior, he had purchased Thornton Landscape in Maineville, Ohio, from its founders, who were also his fraternity brothers at The Ohio State University. Doesburg had worked for the business since he finished college, joining in 1969.

Doesburg was an original charter member of the Educational Foundation for the Associated Landscape Contractors of America (ALCA), now National Association of Landscape Professionals. “It was wonderful when I became an ambassador, and we had fun raising millions of dollars for the foundation,” he says. “I had tears in my eyes when I handed the first scholarship to a student, and every year I could give $1,000 to a deserving student based on the criteria I had put forth for the Thornton Landscape Doesburg Family Scholarship.”

Doesburg has granted more than $17,000 in scholarship money to students since the foundation started. Debra Holder was executive director of ALCA for 25 years and played a mentorship role as an original Trailblazer, along with being a founding member of the Educational Foundation. “He is passionate about young people coming into the industry,” Holder says. “And as a mentor, he just loved to help people grow in success.”

Meaningful associations.

Association involvement opened Doesburg’s eyes to many industry possibilities so that he could someday do the same for younger members. Over the years, Thornton Landscape went on to win many national, state and local design/build awards for its work.

“The key word is ‘networking,’ and it’s true that what makes conferences, meetings and board meetings so valuable is the networking, and with that comes the friendships,” Doesburg says.

Jim McCutcheon is one of those friends. The CEO of HighGrove Partners met Doesburg in the late 1990s at an ALCA conference before either of them owned their businesses.

Doesburg gave McCutcheon some advice – get involved. “For me personally and for my business, that has made a tremendous impact and I feel like I owe him thanks,” McCutcheon says. “He is truly one of my mentors in the industry.”

McCutcheon recalls a meeting in Columbus, Ohio, when Doesburg stood up at an awards ceremony and made a pitch for the Educational Foundation.

“I had no business endowing a scholarship at that point in time, but I was convinced with the way he put it,” McCutcheon says. “He has done more to help students and programs in this industry than anyone I can think of.”

That meeting ultimately set the stage for the Trailblazers program, where industry leaders serve as mentors. Doesburg was one of the first.

“Semi-retired” Doesburg is able to spend his Saturdays on the golf course now instead of in the office.
Photos courtesy of Rick Doesburg

“We visited each other’s operations and donated our time, but the beauty of it was, I always learned more than I think I ever taught anyone by being with them and having them explain their problems and issues to me,” Doesburg says.

Alternatively, others learned from Doesburg by simply watching.

“What I learned from him was how he really built some great relationships with clients and they became friends and counterparts,” says Jud Griggs of Scapes Group in Roswell, Georgia. “It was more than a business relationship, and I tried to follow some of those same techniques.”

Doing what’s right.

Doesburg became president of ALCA in 2002, and he calls it “the most honored thing I have done in my career.”

Doesburg had served as president of the Ohio Nurserymen’s Association in 1984, at the same time he was president of the Cincinnati Homebuilders Association (for two terms).

“He was never afraid to be the contrarian and to say, ‘I hear you, but you might want to consider this,’” McCutcheon says. When Doesburg gets involved, he’s all in.

“He typically has strong opinions – and I think some association people want to be politically correct and not make waves,” Griggs says. “Rick never worried about that.”

His honesty was always refreshing, Holder says.

“You always knew where he stood,” she says. “There was never any hesitation with wondering, ‘What is he really thinking?’ and we always appreciated that.”

Continuing a legacy.

The actual transaction to make Doesburg the owner went smoothly, and so did the transition. “It was an easy fit because I had been there for 30 years,” Doesburg says. “Nothing changed when I bought the company except on Fridays, I had to make payroll.”

Doesburg credits his son for pushing him to explore ownership of Thornton Landscape.

Once Doesburg bought the business, his son, Andy, joined. In fact, it was his son’s interest in running a business with his dad that really pushed Doesburg to take ownership, he says.

Andy came on board and worked his way up the ranks in the company. “He has evolved into a good manager and president and he knows how to run the business,” Doesburg says. “It’s fun working with him – he’s kind of my best friend, so that makes it special.”

Doesburg is currently “semi-retired,” though in his terms, that means spending Saturdays on the golf course rather than in the office – with an eye to spend one more day on the course, too. “I try to stay out of the way as much as possible and let Andy make the decisions,” Doesburg says.

Meanwhile. Thornton Landscape continues a legacy of serving industry associations. Founders Gary and Bill Thornton served as ALCA president, as did Doesburg, who also gave time to the Ohio Nurserymen’s Association and Cincinnati’s Home Builders Association like Andy is now doing.

“I love that tradition,” Holder says. “And Andy may make a fourth president at some point.”

The business, indeed, has been a family affair. It’s where Doesburg met his wife of 43 years, Peggy. She was a secretary at Thornton Landscape. A year later, they got married.

“We have date night every Friday night, and have for years. We travel a little bit and would like to travel more,” Doesburg says.

Andy and their daughter, Stephanie, live close by. “We get together as often as we can,” he says of them and three grandchildren. “I may never retire completely, but I’m slowing down a little.”

October 2017
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