The Pennsylvania Recreation and Park Society awards are presented annually to those individuals who have demonstrated professional leadership, contributions having a lasting value to the parks and recreation profession, and a commitment to the advancement of the Society. The winner of the 2021 PRPS Distinguished Member Award in honor of Robert D. Griffith, from Pashek + MTR, Heather Cuyler.
The Distinguished Member Award is named in honor of Robert D. Griffith, the longtime Executive Director of PRPS, and seeks to recognize those professionals who have consistently contributed to the advancement of the Society, affiliated organizations and the parks and recreation profession.
Heather began her career as a part-time Director and quickly became the first ever full-time Director of Parks and Recreation in Marshall Township. Over the next 20 years, her passion for our field has guided her career, both professionally and as a volunteer. Her efforts and significant achievements as an advocate, volunteer and professional have advanced public recreation and parks and have had tremendous impact on the quality of life in her region and across the state. She has been involved with the Moraine Preservation Fund for more than 20 years, is the co-founder of the Recreation Alliance of North Pittsburgh and is now a Recreation Planner for Pashek + MTR. Heather is a Certified Parks and Recreation Professional, Certified Playground Safety Inspector, & Certified Pool Operator.
Heather is deeply committed to PRPS having served on numerous Annual Conference Committees, and the Membership, Governmental Affairs, and Recognition and Awards Committees, as well as holding leadership positions throughout her very active years in District One. As her nominator stated in her application for this award, “Heather has consistently contributed to the advancement of the Society, affiliated organizations, and our profession in countless ways, and been a champion for parks, trails, greenways, and open space preservation throughout the Commonwealth”. Certainly, appropriate words befitting a Distinguished Member.
The design for the Healing Garden Terrace at the Mario Lemieux Center for Blood Cancers at UPMC Hillman won a Merit Award from the Pennsylvania/Delaware Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects. It was exhibited at the national ASLA conference in Philadelphia last month. It’s the second award for this project.
The challenge was to design a green roof on an existing facility that: uses the proven therapeutic power of art and nature to help in the healing process; provides a positive distraction for patients before and during treatment as well as throughout the four seasons; accommodates the safety and unique needs of blood cancer patients; provides a variety of intimate, contemplative and social gathering spaces within a small terrace; and uses sustainable design principles. For more information check out the project page.
Recently John was inducted into Freedom Area Hall of Fame Class of 2018 at its 11th Annual Hall of Fame banquet. The Foundation administers the Hall of Fame to recognize the achievements of successful and prominent alumni of the Freedom Area School District. The Foundation also sponsors activities and events throughout the year, and funds both student Scholarships and Teacher Grants.
The following offers some little-known facts about John and what he has done in his community.
A 1985 graduate of Freedom Area High School, John is the son of John and Lorraine Buerkle and grew up on North Gross Street in Conway. Early on, John was inspired by Mr. Guzzo and his drafting class. During high school, John attended the Beaver County Vocational Technical School where he placed second in the Pennsylvania Vocational Industrial Clubs of America drafting and design competition as a senior. Although vo-tech was not a traditional path to college, John was encouraged by his parents and his early mentor and vo-tech teacher Mr. Fred Fiumara to attend a four-year college. After graduation, John was offered a position with Ryan Homes, Inc. However, his mom convinced him that a four-year degree would most likely serve him better. Like any good son, John followed his mom’s advice and he’s thankful he did.
John began his college career at Penn State Beaver. After a successful first year, he transferred to University Park, but not for his first choice of major, architecture, but rather for his second choice: landscape architecture. At the time, John had no idea what the profession entailed. However, because it had ‘architecture’ in its title, he assumed he would be interested. He was more than interested, and it has become a passion. John graduated with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Landscape Architecture from Penn State in four years, a tasked deemed impossible for a transfer student.
Between his junior and senior year at Penn State, John was fortunate to secure a paid internship with Jim Pashek, who had started Pashek Associates. After graduating in 1989, Jim offered John an entry-level position. John accepted, joining Jim and Nancy Lonnett Roman.
In 1993, John married Jean Bonaparte, whom he dated early in high school. The two went
separate ways in college but fell in love when they returned home and together raised three wonderful children: Zach, Hannah, and Steven. In 1994, John became a Registered Landscape Architect. John also holds certificates as a planner from the American Institute of Certified Planners and Urban Power to Prosper/Streetwise MBA program from the University of Pittsburgh’s Katz Business School.
Over the years, Pashek Associates grew from a staff of three working out of Jim’s home to a 14-person firm with an office on Pittsburgh’s Northside. In 1997, Jim invited John and Nancy Lonnett to join him as partners. Jim, Nancy, and John established the endowed Pashek, Lonnett, Buerkle Scholarship in Landscape Architecture at Penn State to recognize graduate and undergraduate students majoring in Landscape Architecture with an interest in environmental issues and who have a demonstrated financial need.
John is indebted to his friend and mentor Jim Pashek for taking him under his wing and
mentoring him to continue the firm’s legacy and to his friend and colleague Nancy Lonnett
Roman with whom he’s had the pleasure of working with over the years. It isn’t often one can say they’ve worked at the same place with the same people for 30 years.
In 2017, Pashek Associates merged with MTR Landscape Architects, bringing a portfolio of nationwide work that includes cemeteries for the Veterans Association, including the Cemetery of the Alleghenies, and work at prominent public and private gardens. With the merger, John and his partners continue to expand the type and breadth of work completed by the firm.
John’s greatest professional satisfaction is seeing people enjoying the results of the firm’s work as he travels, which includes local work at the Rochester Flag Plaza; Penn State Beaver; Beaver County Community College; Brady’s Run, Old Economy, and Brush Creek Parks; and many local municipal parks. John often assists communities with applying for and securing funding for planned projects, and his work has resulted in over $3.5 million in improvements just in Beaver County’s parks.
John has been equally passionate in serving his alma mater, community, and church, including work with the Freedom Band Boosters, Freedom High School Marching Band pit crew, Freedom Drama Club set building, Freedom Boys Soccer Boosters, Conway Borough Planning Commission, Conway Borough Council, Conway Community League T-Ball Coach, Freedom Area Soccer Assistant Coach, Cub Scout Pack 427 leader, St. Felix Parish Eucharist Minister, St. Felix Parish Holy Name Society Man of the Year, and St. Felix Holy Name Society President.
John notes that he is honored to be inducted into the Freedom Area Education Association’s Hall of Fame and is humbled to join the ranks of those he has admired and looked up to during his time at Freedom. He looks forward to continuing his professional journey, continuing to serve the community he loves, and continuing to watch his children in their life journeys.
Pennsylvania Chapter of the American Planning Association (PA Chapter of APA) awarded a certificate of merit to the Township of Pine’s Performance Workbook, which was completed in 2014-2016 by Pashek+MTR.
Larry Kurpakus, Pine Township’s director of code enforcement and land development, accepted the award at the annual conference and awards lunch on Oct. 24, 2017. Elaine Kramer, planner and landscape designer at Pashek + MTR, who worked on the plan along with Jim Pashek, planner and registered landscape architect, attended the awards event.
Judges said the workbook format, with how-to check lists, cost estimates and project timelines, made it particularly user-friendly. They cited its creative organization and design as helping make the comprehensive plan “implementable.”