Service Above Self

Iowa State’s Shade Tree Short Course got its start 60 years ago in former forestry professor Sande McNabb’s living room. The meeting was created to discuss Dutch elm disease, which was killing the popular trees across the country.

This year’s meeting drew about 700 participants, and emerald ash borer—a destructive pest claiming the lives of millions of ash across the United States— was a prominent topic of conversation. The annual, two-day event held each February is coordinated by Jeff Iles, chair of the Department of Horticulture.

“It’s the best part of my job,” he says. “I used to do a lot of extension work before I became department chair. I miss that kind of thing.”

Iles became involved in the short course as a committee member in 1988, after coming to Iowa State as a grad student the year before.

“I forget when I became short course chair for life,” he jokes, “but it’s a labor of love.”

The course has traditionally focused on urban and community trees, but now workshops and general sessions branch out into all kinds of horticulture and arboriculture topics.

“If it has anything to do with the natural world or managed landscapes, we cover it,” Iles says. “This conference has become not just an Iowa event, but a regional signature event for arborists and people involved in horticulture.”

Iles puts the program together with the help of trade organizations—the Iowa Nursery and Landscape Association and the Iowa Arborist Association—which he calls “good partners.” Donald Lewis, extension entomologist, is another key player.

Iles’ participative style drew praise from former department head Charles Hall.

“Jeff has worked very well as an organizational leader with industry groups,” Hall says.

Hall met and recruited Iles when he was working for a commercial nursery in Denver, Colorado.

“He joined Iowa State as an extension associate, completed his doctorate (in 1993) and advanced to professor and chair of the department, which he has served as an excellent leader.”

About 10 years ago, Hall recruited Iles again, this time to join the Rotary Club of Ames—one of two local Rotary clubs with about 250 members.

“Jeff possesses and practices the Rotarian motto of: Service Above Self,” Hall says.

Last year, Iles was elected to lead the organization. He called the experience well worth the time commitment.

As leader of the horticulture department Iles leads a team of 20 faculty and staff. He teaches several undergraduate and graduate courses, maintains his extension appointment and, when time allows, conducts research.

He hopes to attract more students to horticulture majors.

“Horticulture remains an important and relevant discipline. To keep pace with job opportunities, we must continue to educate and train future horticulturists,” he says.