John Hosner, professor emeritus of forestry at Virginia Tech, has been recognized with the additional tribute of “honorary founding dean” of the College of Natural Resources and Environment by the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors.
This additional honor comes as the College of Natural Resources and Environment marks the 25th anniversary of its founding in 1992, when it was known as the College of Forestry and Wildlife Resources.
Hosner was named professor emeritus in 1992.
Hosner, who at age 91 still comes into his office at the college every day, played a significant role in the establishment of the college. Today, the college commands a worldwide reputation of excellence in responding to society’s emerging needs for a sustainable planet.
“We needed to recognize John with this title as he sacrificed much to set the foundation to create the college at Virginia Tech,” said Paul Winistorfer, dean of the college. “He was a visionary, and we thank him.”
“John laid the foundation on which our first dean, Greg Brown, who served for 12 years, continued to build, along with his successor Mike Kelly, who served for five years,” Winistorfer said. “Today our college enjoys the No. 1 ranking in the United States.”
Hosner came to Virginia Tech in 1961 as the first head of the newly established Department of Forestry and Wildlife. The department had four faculty members in what was then called the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. He began to build the department by calling fellow department heads of like programs across the county to find out who their best doctoral graduates were so he could recruit them for his faculty.
One of his student recruits and a lifelong college supporter, John Harrison, who graduated in 1967, said, “John Hosner was the reason I majored in forestry and wildlife, and I never regretted it. He came out of his office one day and happened to see me wandering around in Price Hall and asked me if I needed help. His enthusiasm for the program he was building motivated me to change majors, and that led me to a very successful forestry career.”
Hosner also sought the support of industry leaders to grow the program into a college. In 1976, his department became the School of Forestry and Wildlife Resources.
In 1992, the school became the College of Forestry and Wildlife Resources, and Greg Brown became the college’s first dean. Over the years, the new college experienced additional name changes to reflect the broadening scope of studies in order to be relevant to society’s changing needs.
In his three decades of leadership from 1961 to 1992, Hosner’s focus on excellence propelled the college into the national spotlight among peer programs. Today, two of the top 10 research departments at Virginia Tech reside in the college.
Alumnus Bob Garst, who earned his bachelor’s in forestry and wildlife in 1966 and has remained dedicated to the college, noted that, “Dr. Hosner is truly a remarkable man. It is great to honor him because he started the growth of the forestry and natural resources program, which I have been pleased to watch over the last 50 years.”
In addition to his administrative leadership at Virginia Tech, Hosner was president of the Forest Farms Association (now the Forest Landowners Association) and served on numerous boards and committees, including the Virginia Forestry Association, the Biosphere Foundation, and the Commonwealth of Virginia Board of Forestry.
He was honored by the Society of American Foresters with its highest award, the Gifford Pinchot Medal, for his exceptional contributions to the field of forestry during his 47-year career, having been made an SAF Fellow in 1978. He served on SAF’s council from 1990 to 1993, and was appointed chair of a committee that established the Southern Journal of Applied Forestry in the 1970s.
Hosner is a Fellow in the American Association for the Advancement of Science and has received many other professional and academic awards during his career.
In 1982, Hosner established an endowment fund to ensure the college would always grow, and engaged industry partners to contribute generously to the fund, which was named the John F. Hosner Legacy Fund in 2015.
He received his bachelor’s degree from Michigan State University, his master’s degree from Duke University, and his doctorate from the State University of New York.