Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Landscape Artist Stays True to His Roots

by Elijah Turan

Gabe Hays had to make a choice. It was 1997, and Gabe was a landscape architect for a Pittsburgh-based business. He had traveled for design projects all over the world – from the Redwood National Park, to Europe, to Hawaii. He was happy, stable and successful. When fate interceded, he left it all behind to pursue a dream: he wanted to start a landscape architecture firm in his hometown of St. Clairsville.

“I grew up in various rural locations in Belmont County,” Gabe says. “My mother was a single mother of three and a school teacher. As such, we were often times very poor. However, I had a very happy childhood and attended St. Clairsville Richland Schools most of my youth.” As a boy, Gabe developed a passion for plants, and he spent many of his childhood hours planting trees, tending gardens and making landscape models. It was also during this time that he met a girl who would play an important role in his adult life: Sarah Mahan, his future wife. After graduating from St. Clairsville High School in 1990, Gabe decided to pursue his childhood interests by majoring in landscape architecture at Ohio State University.

“I was blessed to take advantage of two summer programs while at the Ohio State University,” Gabe says. The first program offered him the opportunity to help develop the Redwood National Park in 1993. The next summer, Gabe traveled to Europe to study architecture in England, France and Belgium. After graduating in 1994, he found work at a landscape architecture firm in Pittsburg, from which he designed parks all around the country. In 1997, he married Sarah. That same year, she graduated with a PhD. in communication studies from Ohio University.

“We were looking to find her an assistant professor position anywhere within five states of home,” Gabe says. “It seemed to be providence when Ohio University Eastern in St. Clairsville decided to start a four-year degree in communications and to offer a position which she applied and was offered. This unique twist of fate put us in the position of living between my job in Pittsburgh and her new job in our hometown or jumping off the cliff and establishing the Upper Ohio Valley’s only landscape architectural firm.

This was a difficult decision for Gabe. After all, the chance to start a practice in his hometown was perhaps a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. However, he had achieved much working in Pittsburg and there was no guarantee that a southeast Ohio firm would be successful. In the end, however, he decided to make the plunge and he opened Hays Landscape Architecture Studio, Ltd. in St. Clairsville.

“I joke with people that I started this business on ‘wife support,’” Gabe says. As with any new business, there was risk. As time went on, however, Gabe began picking up commissions in Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, and Hays Landscape Architecture Studio has become successful one project at a time. Recently, Gabe has even had the opportunity to design the future St. Clairsville Central Park, which will someday grace the center of his hometown. Currently, Gabe and Sarah are finalizing the adoption of their first child, Jaiden. “So, 13 years later, here I am enjoying a life I never thought would have been possible!”

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