Putting Down Roots

  • April 12, 2010, 11:18 a.m.

Charles Zidar has worked on digs in Cyprus and Greece. He has toured South American jungles and labored in Belize on an ancient Maya site. He’s traveled to over 40 countries, been shot at in the middle of the jungle and nearly died of a tropical disease he caught in Columbia.

But as glamorous as the life of a modern day Indiana Jones may sound, all that led to what is now his dream job in St. Louis, Missouri. Zidar, a 2006 master’s graduate of OU’s College of Liberal Studies, is the manager of construction administration at the Missouri Botanical Garden.

“My job is the best of both worlds,” Zidar said. “During the day I work using my under graduate degree in landscape architecture I received from the Ohio State University. At night I am completing botanical research on the plants used by the ancient Maya; the graduate degree in Liberal Studies I received from the University of Oklahoma. This research is a continuation of the thesis work I completed for my OU degree.”

The Missouri Botanical Garden was founded by Henry Shaw in 1859 and this year will be its 150 year anniversary. It is the oldest botanical garden in continual existence in the U.S. and one of the largest in the entire world (79 acres). Forty-six Ph.D. researchers work in over 36 countries around the world discovering and documenting new species and the herbarium just dedicated its six millionth specimen recently.

“I am very proud to be at the Missouri Botanical Garden,” he said. “I plan to honor that history and excellence with the completion of quality landscape projects during the day and innovative research at night.”

At the Garden, Zidar works with architects, landscape architects, and interior designers to make sure all the new projects at the Garden are designed properly within the budget and with the 150-year history of the Garden in mind. Once projects are designed properly, he coordinates with general contractors to install the projects with care and exacting standards of the Garden in mind. Currently, Zidar is overseeing projects like rebuilding the main entry roads and sidewalks, rebuilding parking lots, rebuilding the boxwood entrance to the Garden with fancy, meticulous brickwork and two other projects in Gray Summit, MO, that involve the design and construction of a bathroom facility and maintenance complex and reconstruction of the bathrooms in the Japanese garden, the large of its kind in the U.S.

“How many people can say that they need to engineer toilets to accommodate the Sumo wrestlers that arrive each year for the large Japanese festival that occurs each year?” he said.

Zidar credits not only his education from OU for this opportunity but also the great people he came into contact during his time at OU. Zidar said it was an incredible pleasure working with OU botany professor Dr. Wayne Elisens, who he coauthored an article with for an upcoming issue of the peer-reviewed journal, Economic Botany. Elisens has also agreed to complete subsequent work on this subject which should include work on the interpretation of ancient Maya squash vessels and the interpretation of jade earspools, ear ornaments worn by the ancient Maya elite, which are all of a floral motif.

Even though he’s been all around the world and even worked in paleontology and paleobotany at two natural history museums making dinosaur discoveries, a few which may be new to science, Zidar feels right at home in St. Louis and has some bigger plans.

“Nowhere that I have visited nor lived in the US, has there been more to do with top notch museums and quality parks,” he said. “Honoring that sense of history again, I plan to complete the restoration on one of the nicest historic homes in the Garden’s surrounding neighborhood.”