GREEN BAY – Paul Hartman would have been the last person to tell you so, but perhaps no one has had a bigger impact on horticulture in Green Bay.

From leading the push that made Green Bay Botanical Garden a reality to sounding the alarm that saved the old growth forest that’s a centerpiece of the Baird Creek Greenway to answering home gardeners’ questions for 30 years, Hartman’s roots in the community run deep.

As a founder of both Green Bay Botanical Garden and Baird Creek Preservation Foundation, he was a man who liked to say, “Plan the work and work the plan.” With those words and a smile on his face, he quite literally changed the landscape in the city.

“He was a tremendous optimist, and he had tremendous perseverance. He viewed that the important thing in life was to make this world a better place and his own small part of the world here in Green Bay,” said Charles Frisk, president of the Baird Creek Preservation Foundation.

“It was never about Paul and what he could do for himself. It was about what Paul could do for the community in general. There are people that are takers in this world and there are people that are givers, and Paul was the ultimate giver.”

Hartman, who died Friday at age 77, leaves a legacy that is enjoyed by anyone who has ever hiked the forest of Baird Creek Greenway, spent an afternoon among the plants at Green Bay Botanical Garden or benefited from projects tended to by Northeastern Wisconsin Master Gardeners, a program he started in 1979. The Green Bay Wild Ones Chapter credits him for “planting the seeds for the native plant movement” in the area when he and others formed a natural landscaping club in 1990.

He was a major force behind many projects and yet always gentle in his approach.

“He was one of the most soft-spoken people I can remember, but he had a way of persuading people to get what he wanted,” said Jerry Landwehr, who was among the group that worked with him to start Green Bay Botanical Garden in 1996. “When he wanted something, he pushed for it until it came to be.

“He loved horticulture, but he really loved his community and he wanted to make it better,” he said. “To me, he was a person who never needed credit for anything.”

Two years after Hartman was hired as the horticulture agent with the Brown County University of Wisconsin-Extension in 1976 — a position he held for 30 years without ever missing a day — he set up a small group called Plants in the Urban Environment to look for ways to improve horticulture in the city, from street trees to plantings in parks. It was from that group that the idea for a botanical garden was born.

“Even when we had the big setbacks where they told us the community would not support a botanical garden in the Green Bay area, Paul always had that positive, positive input. He kept driving forward,” said Landwehr, who was the garden’s first director of horticulture. “I would say Paul Hartman was probably the most important person in getting that started.”

It was also Hartman, a member of the mayor’s beautification committee at the time, who was among the first to become aware that the roughly 40 acres of woodland along Baird Creek Drive, a piece of land rich in mature trees, biological diversity and beauty, was in danger of being sold for a luxury housing development in 1997. He rallied community support to save it, and the nonprofit Baird Creek Preservation Foundation was formed. Today, the forest is one of the crown jewels of the Baird Creek Greenway.

“There wouldn’t be a Baird Creek Preservation Foundation without Paul,” Frisk said. “There were so many people who were saying, ‘No, the city has made up its mind. There’s nothing we can do about it.’ He would never accept that no, that can’t be done.”

During Hartman’s three decades as the county horticulture agent, his columns ran weekly in the Green Bay Press-Gazette, and he made frequent appearances on local TV and radio. It made him something of an unlikely local celebrity, with folks often stopping him at the grocery store or at a restaurant for advice about tomato blight or gypsy moths.

Read the entire article in the Green Bay Press Gazette.