University of Wisconsin-River Falls

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May 14, 2004


UW-RF Plant & Earth Science Professor Retires

A longtime UW-River Falls faculty member is retiring to a tropical paradise after 22 years of service. Plant and earth science Professor Lanny Neel is leaving UW-RF to pursue a career as the director of the World Botanical Gardens near Hilo, Hawaii.

"ItŐs an opportunity to apply my horticultural expertise and my interest in plants and educating people about plants," Neel said. Neel will appreciate the warmer climate in Hawaii, having been raised in California. He said the climate ranges from 75 to 82 degrees in summer and 72 to 79 degrees in winter.

Although he will miss the changing seasons of Wisconsin's climate, he certainly won't be longing for frigid temperatures and patches of ice. Neel broke his ankle a few years ago in three places after slipping on ice between the library and his office. "A man walking 20 or so feet behind me heard my ankle crack," said Neel who needed three screws in his ankle to hold the bones together.

Neel's accomplishments at UW-RF include developing the plant tissue culture course and getting its laboratory funded and functioning as well as helping to develop the biotechnology major. Neel was also a founding member of the UW-RF chapter of Pi Alpha Xi national honorary horticulture society and a founding member of the UW-RF chapter of the National Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi. He held the post of Phi Kappa Phi chapter president for several years.

He also served with four others on the national fellowship award committee for Phi Kappa Phi, where he learned how to critique applications for scholarships. Neel said his most memorable experience as a faculty member was his yearlong sabbatical in Kenya, East Africa. He went there as part of a exchange program for American and Kenyan teachers. He stayed in the small town of Njoro, which was near a national game park and wildlife preserve.

Neel published two papers in the journal "HortScience," a publication of the American Society of Horticulture Science, about his African adventure, in collaboration with the Kenyan teacher who was his counterpart in the exchange. He has enjoyed his time at UW-RF, but what stands out most in his mind is "being able to help influence the lives and careers of so many students for all these years and seeing their success in the region."

Neel also appreciates his time spent with UW-RF faculty and staff. "It was fun being an integral part of a team-oriented, cohesive yet diverse department and college," he said. Neel earned a bachelor's degree from Fresno State College and a master's degree and doctorate from the University of California-Davis. He is married and has four sons, one of whom is a Green Beret in the U.S. Army.

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