In the early 1960’s, Joe Bianco was just starting out in the landscape maintenance business and was seeking knowledge to learn about how plants grow. With just one lawnmower in the back of his car, Bianco started taking short courses at Rutgers University in landscape related topics so as to better service his customers. In 1961, he was excited to learn about a new certificate course put out by the Rutgers Office of Continuing Professional Education (OCPE) which would specifically be focusing on golf turf management.
The creator of the course was Dr. Ralph Engel, a leader at OCPE and a turfgrass scientist who was deeply dedicated to education. Joe Bianco still fondly remembers Dr. Engel and his other instructors from that first year in the golf turf management school including Drs. Aldafer, Strew, Vasvary, Singley and Moore. He also has recalls many of his classmates from that first graduating class of 24 students. “Twenty-eight enrolled but not everyone made it through to the second year,” said Bianco. Nearly 50 years later many of Bianco’s classmates have impacted the turf industry in positions of golf course or landscape leadership.
As for Bianco, taking the course as a landscaper served him a great benefit. His company, Green Thumb Services of North Brunswick now has 10 employees and over the years has serviced some incredible contracts. For six years, as part of two consecutive contracts, Bianco’s company serviced Newark Airport, his company has serviced a few large apartment complexes for over 40 years, and is one of the only companies in the state to do high tree spraying. Since earning the original golf turf certificate Bianco has gone on to earn pruning specialization which has given his company an additional skill with which they can serve their customers.
Yet, perhaps Joe Bianco’s biggest customer has been Rutgers University as Bianco has practically created a second career in giving back to the institution and unit that helped jump-start his career. Joe has served Rutgers through several projects. These include working to honor Drs. Indyke and Engle by renaming a campus road in their names, helping build the Ralph Geiger Turfgrass Education Center, and spearheading Project Dream (Development, Research, Experimentation, Management). Project Dream was the first complete turfgrass demonstration laboratory in the country - 30,000 square feet of turfgrass plots on the Ryders Lane farm. “When I was a student we had to use slides to see turf,” said Bianco. “I wanted to give students, the community and researchers something more substantive.” Joe also spearheaded Project T.R.I.B.U.T.E. (Turf Farm Rebuilding to Improve Buildings, Utilities, Teaching, and Experimentation), which build the C. Reed Funk Building at Hort Farm II in 1996. Current OCPE director, Ned Lipman, said “Joe is one of the best examples of what a University can receive back from the people it has best served.”
“People have to give something back,” said Bianco. “The people that taught us did so with so much energy and goodness that it’s important for each individual to give something back.”