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Veteran St. Paul city park designer gets national honor

Don Ganje, who's spent a career designing St. Paul parks and is known for his work on Como and Mears Parks, Raspberry Island and the Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary, will join the prestigious Council of Fellows of the American Society of Landscape Architects this weekend.

The ASLA says being enshrined in the council is:

"...among the highest honors the ASLA bestows on members and recognizes the contributions of these individuals to their profession and society at large based on their works, leadership and management, knowledge, and service."

Ganje is one of 33 ASLA members being "elevated" at the group's annual meeting in Phoenix.

They say this about Ganje:

With his eye for the smallest site detail and mastery of vast public open spaces, he has the ability to make places where people feel welcome and that comfort, excite, and encourage them to interact. He further infuses his colleagues with a passion for the highest levels of design excellence. He has devoted his career to the public sector in a city whose residents place high value on their parks, rivers, and open spaces — an appreciation that he encourages at every opportunity. He continues to dedicate himself to the improvement of the entire region, from one-block Mears Park to the 3,500-acre Mississippi National River and Recreation Area.

Brad Meyer of the city Parks Department said Ganje is one of those unsung public servants who rarely gets public credit and prefers it that way.

"He's known for his patience and ability to extract ideas from community feedback and shape them into a design and finished products that clearly represent the communities they serve — and into things they can be proud of," Meyer said.

Ganje has worked recently on the Great River Passage project, a master plan for the city's park lands along the Mississippi River.

"Don probably attended more than 100 evening and weekend community meetings, spent time with more than 1,000 community members, and worked with more than 30 consultants on the Great River Passage project," Meyer said.

Approval of the plan is expected later this year.

Mayor Chris Coleman lauded Ganje's work, too:

"[His] vision and design expertise have led to some of Saint Paul’s most treasured outdoor spaces such as Como and Mears Parks, Raspberry Island and Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary. He has designed bustling urban parks, a restored refuge and a tranquil respite along the Mississippi River."

Ganje, who got his degree from the University of Minnesota, worked two years for a large firm before taking a temporary job with the St. Paul Parks department in the design and construction division. And he never left.

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