Aug. 17, 2015 – In the summer of 2015, USA Today College edition ranked the Virginia Tech College of Natural Resources and Environment’s programs the best in America.
How did John Hosner establish the foundation that today puts college at the top and commands a worldwide reputation of excellence?
Always strategic, Hosner explained, “In a nutshell, I regularly called the heads of like programs across the nation and asked them who their best Ph.D. graduates were. Then I worked hard to recruit them for our faculty.
“And then I worked hard to make sure they had the resources to develop as top-notch faculty members and researchers in their fields. I had some great help along the way from our industry leaders who supported us and gave generously.”
Those who have run or played baseball or racquetball with Hosner know he is competitive. So it has never been a surprise to them that Hosner would lead the charge to carve out a College of Forestry and Wildlife Resources (the college’s first name) from Virginia Tech’s then College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. They understood his drive for excellence and pre-eminence. And the advocate for college status understood that the program would never be recognized nationally for its high quality unless it stood on its own.
Hosner came to Virginia Tech in 1961 as the first head of the newly established Department of Forestry and Wildlife, consisting of four faculty members. The department’s foundation was laid decades earlier. Virginia Tech’s first forestry professor was hired in 1925 by the Department of Biology, and the Virginia Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit was started in 1935.
After some stellar years of growth and fundraising, the program under Hosner became the School of Forestry and Wildlife Resources in 1976. In 1992 the school became a college with the help of industry leaders and Virginia legislators. Hosner had to step down in the process, and Greg Brown became the first dean.
One of Hosner’s first hires was Harold Burkhart, a now world-renowned expert who is the Thomas M. Brooks Professor of Forestry and one of the few University Distinguished Professors.
Hosner grew his faculty of four to 62. “I was impressed with our students, so I wanted to make sure I got them the best professors I could find,” Hosner said. Student enrollment grew from 72 students to 750 under his vigorous leadership.
Many alumni recognized how much the school had grown during Hosner’s three decades at the helm. One alumnus said, “The people of Virginia were fortunate that a self-sacrificing type of individual had persevered to get college status for the growing natural resources program.” Another alumnus added, “It isn’t hard to pick out the Hokies in a crowd of natural resource professionals – they are usually light years ahead of the pack.”
Hosner directed this remarkable growth through the integration of all forestry-related natural resource fields into one unified curriculum. His students benefitted and went on to become leaders in industry, government, and nonprofit forestry organizations.
In addition to his administrative leadership in education, Hosner served as president of the Forest Farmers Association (now called Forest Landowners Association), the lobbying arm for forestry interests in Congress. He also served on numerous boards and committees, including the Virginia Forestry Association, the Biosphere Foundation, and the Commonwealth of Virginia Board of Forestry.
In 1996, Hosner was honored by the Society of American Foresters with its highest award, the Gifford Pinchot Medal, for his exceptional contributions in the field of forestry during his 47-year-career. He was elected an SAF Fellow in 1978 and served on the council from 1990-93, as well as in numerous other SAF roles, including chairing the committee that established the Southern Journal of Applied Forestry in the 1970s.
He is a Fellow in the American Association for the Advancement of Science and has received many other professional and academic awards during his career.
Hosner had set up a college endowment fund in 1982 to help grow the college. “Our industry partners stepped up to the plate and contributed substantially,” he pointed out. “They knew we could leverage those funds well. And we did.”
To honor the college’s founder, Dean Paul Winistorfer and college development director Emily Hutchins have now named this fund the John F. Hosner Legacy Fund.
In announcing this, Winistorfer said, “We are renaming the fund as a token of gratitude for everything John has done for the college, his dedication, and leadership. The endowment fund and will ensure ongoing support for our students and programs in perpetuity.”
Ken Morgan, president of Morgan Lumber Company in Red Oak, Virginia, and a longtime supporter of the college, said, “My conviction is that every graduate, faculty member, and staff person both current and prior within the college owes much gratitude and credit for their career successes to Dr. Hosner. Would there even exist a college of like academic disciplines at Virginia Tech without the vision and diligence of Dr. Hosner? A true testament of sacrificing one’s self interest for the benefit of many was his firm position in supporting the autonomous structure of today’s College of Natural Resources and Environment. I personally have gained character from my association with John Hosner. And Morgan Lumber Company has benefited tremendously from his professional legacy.”
The retired professor emeritus has remained active all these years with the forestry and education professions. Along with being a lifelong runner and playing and coaching softball, Hosner continued his involvement with the Virginia Forestry Educational Foundation after retirement. Today he still attends the board meetings and facilitates VFEF’s annual giving of more than $80,000 of scholarships to forestry students at the college.
Where did Hosner get interested in forestry? When the Illinois native served in the Italian campaign against the Nazis during World War II, he completed 25 missions as a bombardier navigator with another member of the U.S. Air Force who had been a forester prior to being drafted and got him interested in the field. Hosner received an air medal recognizing his service.
Before coming to Virginia Tech in 1961 as department head, he received his B.S. from Michigan State in 1948, his M.S. from Duke in 1950, and his Ph.D. from the State University of New York in 1957.
Hosner, who ran track in high school, continues to run each day “for his health,” he said. “Not until age 90 did I take any prescription medicines. Now I do take blood pressure pills.”
Sports Illustrated featured his running achievement in 1985. In his races, he would always ask at the end, “Did I beat my age bracket record?” At age 60 he set his first world record for the 1500-meter indoor race. He set records for the mile at the age of 75, 81, and 85. His most recent record, in a time of 8 minutes 22:59 seconds, still stands as a world record.
While Hosner runs for his health, the competitor’s lasting legacy is founding Virginia Tech’s top-ranked College of Natural Resources and Environment by attracting exceptional faculty. And so it is fitting that the John F. Hosner Legacy Fund honors the man who had the vision to see the natural resources profession was changing and positioned the program effectively to respond to society’s emerging needs for a sustainable planet.
If you prefer to mail your donation:
To learn more about the John F. Hosner Legacy Fund, please contact Emily Hutchins at email@example.com, 540-231-8859.