For 38 years, Art Yeas was the McMaster greenhouse manager. He could often be found diligently watering each plant, the top of his head peeking over a shrub. When he wasn’t nurturing his fauna, he was sharing his extensive knowledge and enthusiasm with students. Despite all the life around him, Yeas still stood out.
Unfortunately, Art Yeas passed away in early September, a loss that has been deeply felt in the McMaster community.
Robin Cameron is a professor in the Department of Biology at McMaster who worked closely with Yeas on developing the lab aspect of the second year “Biology 2D03: Plant Biology and Biotechnology” course. Cameron is aware of just how much thought Yeas put into mapping out the whole year ahead for students.
“We provide a lot of plant material during the course, and sometimes we need seedlings that are [various sizes] so that students can look at the development of the plant… He had this big board, cork board, with when to plant everything.”
Despite working a job whose description put him in the background, his dedication and effort did not go unnoticed by the students and community at large. He worked as a supervisor for students working on biology practicums, aided graduate students with research and was an integral component to undergraduate plant labs.
Yeas managed over 217 plants at a time, many of which he brought in of his own accord. The more outrageous, the more likely it was that Yeas had ordered them. Susan Dudley, also a professor in the Biology department, attributes the diversity of plant life in the greenhouse to Yeas’ quirky tastes.
“He loved weird and interesting and outrageous plants, so we have a lot of those. We have a great collection of carnivorous plants for example… and we have plants that move, and just kind of amazing, or pretty, or bizarre dyed orchids for example… He was working on maintaining the collection; he was looking at propagating our chocolate tree… He had just gotten in a shipment of seeds, including seeds of indigenous varieties… and some strange seeds that we aren’t even sure what they are.”
His acquisition of the Titan Arum corms brought crowds of visitors through the greenhouse this past year. The six-foot tall flowers are infamous for their odour which resembles that of rotting flesh, but bloom beautifully for no more than a few days. Dudley remembers how the plants brought out Yeas’ giddy side.
“When the Titan Arum was blooming, he decided he was going to keep the greenhouse open to 11 o’clock at night. He was not sleeping very much at night. He was surviving on Red Bull and telling people stories. When I had gone away he set up a fog machine, because he liked the atmosphere.”
For the last few years of his life, Yeas could not sit still. He acquired the Titan Arums; he grew bamboo shoots to feed the Giant Pandas at the Toronto Zoo. Cameron believes that Yeas put the greenhouse on the map.
This past July, Yeas was awarded the 2014 President’s Award for Outstanding Service. The award is for any McMaster employee that is nominated for their meaningful contribution to university life. Other members of the community write letters in support of each nominee, justifying why they deserve the title. Art Yeas won—not because of anything a paper said, but because he had won over the community.
Art Yeas had big plans ahead for the greenhouse. Cameron knows that he was hoping to replace the old greenhouse, which is costly and inefficient, with a newer model.
“The long-term goal was to have a new greenhouse…That was the last thing I did with Art… in August. [We] visited Vineland, which is an agricultural research station run by Ontario… They have a new greenhouse that’s just being completed, so we toured this new greenhouse to see what new innovations they have today. And Art was so excited, and just so thrilled that we would have, maybe, a new greenhouse.”
Whether the plan for a new greenhouse is realized or not, it is because of Yeas that the option is even on the horizon. No one is going to forget about Yeas any time soon. He embodied the greenhouse and it now embodies him—a physical reminder of a member of the McMaster community who will be dearly missed by many.
Photo Credit: Jon White/Photo Editor