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Building a Legacy

Former CASNR faculty member's elgacy continues through scholarships.
Building a Legacy

John Ritter celevrated during his retirement reception in 2011. To donate to the Professor John Ritter Memorial Scholarship, visit Photo by Todd Johnson

By Breanna Viles, AG Communications Services Student
Cowboy Journal, College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources at Oklahoma State University
Volume 19 Number 2  .  Summer/Fall 2017

At Oklahoma State University, chances are you will talk to students who say a professor impacted their lives and influenced their careers. Such is true for former students and colleagues of John Ritter.

Respected, reserved and involved are words used by Janet Cole, OSU Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture department head, to describe Ritter.

Although the former landscape architecture professor died in January 2017, his legacy lives on at OSU through his colleagues, former students and the recipients of the scholarships Ritter created, said Michael Holmes, associate professor landscape architecture.

Ritter grew up in Payne County and graduated from Yale high School in 1955 with honors, Holmes said.

"He grew up in a family of five children," Holmes said. "He lives on a family farm in Yale, Okla., where they produced milk and transported it in cream cans in their own vehicles to sell in Stillwater."

After graduating in 1961, Ritter was drafted into the U.S. Army and served his country for two years while stationed in Germany.

After receiving an honorable discharge from the Army, he earned a master's degree at Kansas State University in 1970, the highest degree one can earn in landscape architecture, Cole said.

Holmes said finances were difficult for Ritter during his time at OSU, causing him to consider taking a semester off until he could find the funds needed to finish his degree.

"John went to a professor and said he was going to have to take time off," Homes said. "The professor heard John's needs, and a donor from a gardening club stepped up to help. He always remembered that."

Ritter spent time overseas after college working in landscape architecture. In 1990, Ritter was working for Betchel Crop, in Kuwait during Operation Desert Storm, said Lynn Brandenberger, horticulture food crops specialist.

Holmes said Ritter was in Kuwait during a time when being an American was not a good thing.

"He would barricade himself in his apartment and hide during the day in the closet and in a dropped ceiling space," Holmes said.

When Ritter moved out of his apartment, he was found and taken hostage. The U.S. government arranged for Ritter and the other hostages to be released, Holmes said.

"He never really talked much about his time being a captive, but he was there for three to five months," Homes said.

After this life-altering event, Ritter returned to Oklahoma to teach in the OSU horticulture and landscape architecture department. He then taught for 20 years, Holmes said.

"He taught landscape architecture, design studios and a construction class," Cole said. "He also went on study-abroad trips and competitions with his students." Holmes said Ritter taught a Construction I class, which requires a lot of mat.

Although the class was difficult, Holmes said, Ritter had the ability to get the students to love it.

Ritter's former students appreciated him being involved with them, said Jason Wilke, 2006 landscape architecture alumnus and owner/operator of Studio W LLC, a firm in Edmond, Okla.

"He went out of his way and put a lot of effort into establishing a relationship with students that was more of a friendship that would last a lifetime," Wilke said. "His mentorship —both professional and personal — is highly regarded among the landscape architecture community and will forever be his legacy."

After Ritter retired in 2011, he continued to help students at OSU, said Ryan Grider, a 2016 landscape architecture graduate and employee at Studio W.

"Professor Ritter was always willing to make himself available to his students even after he retired," Grider said. "There were many times I would be working in the studio on projects and Professor Ritter would just show up to see what we were all working on. He would give us feedback, critiques and advice on not only our designs but also our future careers."

Grider said he credits Ritter for his valued advice, which has helped him today in his career.

"Some of the things Professor Ritter told me about projects and design are things I use every day," Grider said. "At the time, I did not realize how helpful they would be, but now that I am in the field, it is extremely valuable."

Ritter was a devoted man who cared about his students, Brandenberger said. He also wanted to give back to help students struggling financially, so he created a scholarship, Brandenberger added.

In 2011, at the time of his retirement, Ritter created a scholarship in honor of his parents: the Elmer and Mona Lewis Ritter Scholarship. This $1,750 scholarship is open to fourth-year landscape architecture students and is awarded annually.

As part of the application of the scholarship, students must submit their best design projects. The scholarship has a small pool of applicants and is juried by faculty. Ritter helped jury the applications until this year, Holmes said.

"We wanted to create a scholarship in honor of him," Holmes said. "He said he wanted to create one in honor of his parents first."

The Professor John Ritter Scholarship was created to honor Ritter, and a campaign was launched in 2017 to endow a scholarship that honors Ritter's legacy. The fund must reach $25,000 to endow the scholarship, Holmes said.

"He was a mentor to me and a father figure," Holmes said. "He cared deeply about the students. We will continue to carry the legacy of John Ritter."

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