Future Builder

Jim Martin (left), founder of James Martin Associates, presents an award to JMA staffer Daniel Mata (center) at the company’s annual Recognition Breakfast. They’re joined by Mike Patton, who has since left the company. (Image courtesy of David Hirsch)
Landscape architect Jim Martin supports staff through scholarships and internships

When Jim Martin, BLA ’72, was just 17, he had the opportunity to spend a few hours talking with renowned landscape architect Ralph Synnestvedt, BLA ’52. That Friday afternoon conversation 50 years ago would frame Martin’s life and career. As Synnestvedt shared insights from his work leading Synnestvedt Nursery, his family’s North Shore landscaping and horticultural company, “I felt like he was paying it forward,” Martin recalls. “It anchored my connection to landscape architecture.”

Today Martin himself is mentoring the next generation of landscape architects through his business, which he founded in 1977 on the principle of enriching lives through beautiful landscapes. With locations in Vernon Hills, Ill., and Boulder, Colo., James Martin Associates offers a range of landscaping services, from design and installation to maintenance and snow management. The large staff includes landscape architects, crew members, technicians, mechanics and drivers.

Martin is committed to support his staff through scholarships, including awards to employees’ family members. One scholarship, made annually, honors long-time staffer Heidi Sibert, BLA ’79. Recipients have included University of Illinois students, many of whom have gone to work for Martin after graduation. “Universities love the idea of giving scholarships to current students,” Martin observes. “Students love it, schools love it and employees really feel like they’ve been given the chance to do something really special.”

The company also offers three-month seasonal internships, which Martin views as a great way to get acquainted with prospective employees. Interns are required to give PowerPoint presentations on their experiences to a club or a class, and Martin rewards them with $100 for the task (which many of the interns use to buy pizza for presentation attendees). The presentations are a “fun way of expanding stories,” Martin says. “It makes the next group of students aware of opportunities.” Successful completion of an internship is a stepping stone to a scholarship/apprentice program, which offers students tuition money and a two-year apprenticeship after graduation. 

The commitment to beautiful landscapes—and the professionals who create and maintain those landscapes—is a legacy that recalls the generosity of Martin’s role model. When Ralph Synnestvedt closed his nursery in Glenview, Ill., in 1985 (relocating to Round Lake), he donated the land to the village park district. Today, it is the site of an arboretum named in his honor.