Aug. 18 2007 12:00 AM

When Stuart Sperber was about ten years old, his father and brother started a company called Valley Crest Landscape Nurseries in North Hollywood, California. While growing up, as you can guess, the talk around the dinner table was always about trees and landscaping. Sperber was immersed in it. As a teenager he helped out in the nursery, trimmed the stock, watered the plants and did whatever was asked of him.

Sperber studied Ornamental Horticulture at California State Polytechnic- University’s College of Agriculture in Pomona. In 1956, he entered the Army, and because of his background, he was put in charge of landscaping the entire base, even though he was only a Private First Class. Following his stint in the military, he joined the family business. In those halcyon post-war days, returning GIs were buying new homes and starting families. New sub-division housing starts were seen all over Southern California; landscaping was booming and the demand for plant material was insatiable. However, at that time it seemed that nurseries were only growing one- and five-gallon plants. Seizing an opportunity, the Sperbers leased three acres in Sepulveda, California, and began to grow 15-gallon and 24-inch box trees.

Today, Valley Crest Tree Company boasts more than 800 acres of growing grounds, both in Northern as well as Southern California. The company has more than 500 employees, and is the largest growers of containerized specimen trees in the United States.

Not only does Valley Crest grow the trees, they also developed a method to safely and successfully move large, mature specimen and heritage trees. Sperber holds dual roles as vice chairman of the board for Valley- Crest Companies, the parent company, and is CEO and co-founder of Valley Crest Tree Company. He has worked side by side with his brother Burt for almost 50 years, building the company to almost $1 billion in sales.

This in itself makes a great story and shows the commitment and dedication of Stuart Sperber to the horticulture and landscape industry. But there is more to Sperber than just the business end. Although he might not be very tall in stature, Sperber is a giant of a man. He has been giving back to the industry some of what he has achieved through the success of his company. He is recognized as one of the nursery industry’s leading advocates for the long-term advancement of the nursery business in California. “Stuart Sperber is a guy with great vision about the industry,” said Robert Crudup, president, Valley Crest Tree Company.

“He has dedicated himself and is totally involved in the advancement of the industry. I think that’s what made the difference. You don’t find too many owners who make that kind of commitment.” Sperber has held numerous leadership positions with professional landscape organizations.

He is a past president of the California Landscape Contractors Association, he was a member of the National Council of Tree and Landscape Appraisers, Westen Chapter of International Society of Arboriculture and American Association of Nurserymen. He has given of his time to his alma mater by serving on the University Educational Trust, the President’s Council, and various other committees. He was recently honored with the College of Agriculture’s first Award of Distinction. Not only does he contribute generously of his time, he also contributes of his and his company’s resources.

Through his efforts, his company has donated time, material, money and labor to help beautify the University’s campus. Recently, Sperber was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Science degree by the Board of Trustees of California State University and Cal Poly, Pomona, in recognition of his tireless efforts on behalf of the University, for his achievements in the nursery industry and for his commitment and dedication to help make the industry and the community a better place to be.

Sperber was humbled and thrilled to receive this honor. In about the year 2000, Sperber began working more closely with his brother Burt, developing and managing the day-to-day duties of running the company. He is also playing a major part in helping to guide his nephew Richard Sperber, Burt’s son, into the presidency which he currently holds.

“Stuart has been a triumphant part in the managing and building of ValleyCrest Companies into what it is today, the largest company of its kind in the United States,” said Burt Sperber. “He is still working to help guide the future of this company.”

Sperber is the epitome of a family man. Loved by his wife Leslie and his children, Adam, Rochelle and Julie, he enjoys spending his spare time with his family. His great joys are his seven grandchildren. There’s an old adage, “If you want something done, ask a busy man.” This is Stuart Sperber. Through his almost 50 years in the business, when something has to be done, or when a charitable project is running short of funds, Sperber and his company are there to make up the shortfall without fanfare. The legacy of ValleyCrest Companies will be its generosity to the communities it serves.

Stuart Sperber has blazed a trail for many to follow. He has set an example of giving back to his alma mater, the various trade associations and to his community. “I have truly been blessed,” he said. “My family, my brother and all the many friends I have developed along the way, I cherish them all.”