Don Brinkerhoff, founder and chairman of Lifescapes International Inc., has established a $10,000 annual scholarship at his alma mater, Cal Poly Pomona. The unrestricted award – the largest scholarship ever awarded in the College of Environmental Design – will go to a second- or third-year landscape architecture student with demonstrated need and ability as a self-starter, leader and team player.
Brinkerhoff, ’52, ornamental horticulture, knows firsthand that a scholarship can change a student’s life.
More than 60 years ago, long before his name became synonymous with world-class landscape architectural design, Brinkerhoff was a horticulture student in desperate need of financial assistance. He had sold magazines door to door the summer after his freshman year to make ends meet but was on the verge of quitting school and going to work running errands at a stock brokerage in Los Angeles.
That’s when Howard Boltz, a landscape design instructor at the Voorhis campus in San Dimas (predecessor to Cal Poly Pomona), stepped in. First, he helped Brinkerhoff line up a few odd jobs on campus including one in the cafeteria, which ensured he wouldn’t go hungry.
“Then he said, ‘I think I can get you a scholarship from the Sears Roebuck Company.’ A thousand dollars.” Brinkerhoff pauses. “That’s like $10,000 today.”
The money cleared the way for Brinkerhoff to pay his expenses, remain in school and graduate – and it served as the impetus for the $10,000 Don Brinkerhoff Landscape Architecture Scholarship Award, which will be awarded initially in May. If the recipient is anything like Brinkerhoff, he or she will use the money to chart a unique course in life.
The road to success was far from linear for Brinkerhoff, who parlayed opportunity, serendipity and hard work into a burgeoning career as a landscape designer by the mid-1960s. And then he walked away from it. Rather, he flew away to the University of Madrid with his wife and four young children in tow to pursue broader studies in architecture and urban planning and to learn a foreign language.
“I never felt I got enough of an education,” Brinkerhoff says. “I learned about bugs and bushes but I wanted more.”
What followed was a two-and-a-half year adventure that took them from Madrid to Milan, Istanbul, Athens, Vienna and Rome. Brinkerhoff picked up a landscape design job in Greece, lived in Italy and palled along with the recipient of the Prix de Rome in Landscape Architecture, visiting private Italian gardens throughout the countryside. He soaked up European culture and gained a wealth of knowledge that would later bolster his career.
He then decided to take his family to Asia, where they stopped in Japan for a month studying gardens. After that, it was off to Hawaii, where Brinkerhoff worked and took up surfing in his off hours. Four months later, it was time to come home to relaunch his business.
“We washed back up on the shores of California in February 1968,” he says, “flat broke but rich in experience. Ignorance is bliss, but it all worked out OK.”
Julie Brinkerhoff-Jacobs, Don’s daughter and the president of Lifescapes International, says the family’s experiences are the reason the $10,000 scholarship is unrestricted, “giving the recipient opportunities as they see fit, and that hopefully shall include travel.”
Lifescapes International emerged as an internationally recognized landscape architectural design firm in the mid-1980s when it partnered with Steve Wynn on his Mirage Resort in Las Vegas. More than a dozen other casino destination resort projects followed along The Strip (Caesars Palace, Paris, Treasure Island, Bellagio, Wynn Las Vegas and Encore, just to name a few). Red Rock Casino Resort, located in the Summerlin area of Las Vegas and also designed by the firm, was the first casino resort that emphasized a desert-sensitive style, winning numerous awards of excellence.
“Las Vegas is a great showcase because so many people go there, so, as a result, we’ve gotten many referrals throughout the years, which have taken us around the world – and still does,” Brinkerhoff says. More than six years ago, Lifescapes International expanded to China, where it is working on projects in more than a dozen cities from Beijing to Macau to Hainan Island. New opportunities are also taking the firm to Russia, Italy and Canada, as well as U.S.-based projects in Florida, Louisiana, Idaho, Oregon and Utah, with more on the way.
“I wish I had planned all of this, but a lot of it just fell out of the sky,” Brinkerhoff says, reflecting on his career.
“Doing good work consistently, caring about our clients and their visions, and delivering unique gardens has given us a portfolio of memorable places,” Julie adds.
“The journey is undetermined,” Brinkerhoff says. “You take the first step and fate determines what happens after that. Some people are driven to succeed, and some people have opportunities they never knew they had until they pass them up. I jumped off a cliff without a parachute and got lucky.”
The rewards have been worth the risks.
Cal Poly Pomona has embarked on a $150 million comprehensive fundraising campaign to ensure that a quality college education is within reach for future generations of students. The campaign will strengthen the university’s ability to provide a hands-on education, to prepare students for the changing demands of the workplace, and to increase research and scholarship opportunities. The fundraising campaign relies on the support of the entire campus community — from alumni to faculty and staff to friends of the university. For more information, visit https://campaign.cpp.edu/.