Therese Gripentrog was so impressed with the expansive and varied landscape of her high school, JFK Prep in St. Nazianz, that she pursued a career in landscape architecture. Now she helps others enjoy their surroundings as a regional landscape architect with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.
After high school, Gripentrog went to Milwaukee Area Technical College. She started a landscaping business after graduation, while a friend from the technical college went to study landscape architecture at UW-Madison. Gripentrog looked into the program, the only one of its kind in the state, and started classes in 1984. Three years later she earned her bachelor’s degree in landscape architecture.
Gripentrog says the landscape architecture program prepared her well for her DNR job. She applies what she learned from geographers, landscape architects, architects and botanists in working with the public and communities in southeastern Wisconsin.
“Our professors also exposed us to working on teams and that has been very helpful,” she says.
Gripentrog has been involved in several projects, such as improving recreational and green space along the Milwaukee River and establishing a trail (part of the state’s recreational trail program) through an old industrial valley.
Gripentrog works on parks, forests, wildlife areas, natural areas and fisheries in eight southeastern Wisconsin counties. She uses what she learned in landscape architecture to develop master plans and conduct feasibility studies.
Arnold Alanen, chair of the Department of Landscape Architecture, had a large influence on Gripentrog’s career. “He taught me the impact of a people’s culture on the landscape,” she says. For example, she says, Alanen studied the impact that immigrants had on local geographies.
Gripentrog worked for Alanen at the UW-Madison. She also interned with the Madison planning department and continued working there after graduation. Her work included environmental enforcement, where she investigated activities such as illegal dumping. She then went to work as a planner, assistant zoning administrator and assistant building inspector for Mt. Pleasant in Racine County.
“Learn all you can about working on a team,” Gripentrog advises students. There are many opportunities for undergraduates in the landscape architecture program, she adds. “You have the advantage of being at a large research university but also of being in a small department where professors are very willing to give you advice and guidance.”