Although his father was a professor at Calvin, Greg De Vries ’98 wasn’t sure he was going to attend the college as a student. He wanted to be a cultural anthropologist, and Calvin didn’t offer that major.
“My parents were convinced that Calvin would provide an outstanding academic foundation for anthropology—or anything I wanted to do—so they did some bargaining,” De Vries said.
De Vries opened the college catalog, circled the 100 courses that looked interesting, and decided to chart a course toward a major somewhere between them. That major turned out to be Spanish, which proved mightily useful in many work assignments.
He minored in environmental studies, international development studies and archaeology. He treasures the experiences with history professor Bert de Vries (no relation) doing on-site work at de Vries’ excavation in Umm el-Jimal, Jordan. Now, 21 years later, he continues to volunteer for the project.
During his time at Calvin, De Vries did then what today’s students see as natural: take advantage of every off-campus and cultural experience possible. In addition to the archaeological dig in Jordan, he explored three Central American countries with art professor Helen Bonzelaar; spent a semester in Spain; conducted art history research on the Maya in Mexico; and learned about social justice from Kurt and Jo Ann Ver Beek on a semester in Honduras.
After graduation, he received master’s degrees in cultural anthropology from the University of Florida and in landscape architecture from the University of Michigan.
“I discovered that I was interested in harnessing the social sciences through the technical aspects of culture in order to make an impact,” he said. “I found that landscape architecture could bring all of my interests together. Basically, the field improves society by creating connections between people and places. In my case, I draw on the past to help address contemporary issues.”
De Vries has worked as a freelance consultant, for Heritage Landscapes in Vermont, and at his current home: Quinn Evans Architects in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Government agencies, private institutions, and nonprofit organizations hire preservation landscape architects to research the history of a particular site and to make recommendations on how to restore lost elements and design for future uses.
He has traveled extensively in his work, taking on assignments to preserve Cuban World Heritage sites; plan a national forest for the Government of Belize; develop a Biosphere Reserve (with his wife, Erin) for UNESCO in St. Kitts; design landscape projects throughout the Caribbean; and address cultural sites in Turkey, the Philippines and Canada. He has also worked at U.S. Embassy properties in South America.
“It is a joy to grapple with cultural and natural complexities, reveal hidden histories and enable a place to speak for itself,” he said.
In the U.S., De Vries has worked on dozens of projects as diverse as the U.S. Capitol and the Homeland Security headquarters in Washington, D.C.; neighborhood revitalization in Detroit; historic farms along Vermont’s Lake Champlain; a massacre memorial in Utah; Jackson Park in Chicago; and the Woodstock Festival grounds in upstate New York.
A current project is the rehabilitation of Youngsholm, the Ohio homestead of Col. Charles Young, a famous Buffalo Soldier and the most decorated African-American military leader between the Civil War and World War I.
“Our client in this case is the National Park Service,” he said. “There is an opportunity to reclaim the individual features of the cultural landscape in order to help visitors learn from the place where this great man lived.”
Environmental stewardship is deeply engrained in De Vries and he feels prepared and spiritually attuned to do his work with excellence and passion.
“The idea of faith in action—hands and heart—has always motivated me,” he said.