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The University of North Carolina
A Department of the North Carolina Botanical Garden


Collectors of the UNC Herbarium

Herbert Hechenbleikner
23 September 1909 – 27 December 2004

Information compiled by Carol Ann McCormick. 
Special thanks to Dr. Larry Mellichamp and Paula Gross of the
University of North Carolina at Charlotte for photo of Dr. Hechenbleikner.

Herbert Hechenbleikner was an educator and all-around naturalist, with great interests in horticulture (especially rhododendrons), landscape design, and herpetology.  With approximately 10% of NCU’s collection catalogued, about 80 specimens collected by Hechenbleikner have been found.  Many of these were collected with Laurie Stewart Radford during the summer of 1938 at the Highlands Biological Station in Macon County, North Carolina.  The UNCC collection holds 277 specimens collected by Hechenbleikner. 

Hechenbleikner earned his undergraduate degree at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1931.  He earned both Masters Degree and Doctoral Degree (1936) at Harvard University.  His doctoral thesis was entitled “Studies on the Chamaeleontidae.” He served in the United States Army from 1941-1944.  He joined the faculty of Charlotte College in 1949, and continued to serve on the faculty when it transitioned to the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.  He became a Professor Emeritus of UNCC in 1976.

The University of North Carolina at Charlotte Botanical Garden was founded by Dr. Hechenbleikner with the support of Ms. Bonnie Cone and Mr. Ralph Van Landingham.

Dr. Herbert Hechenbleikner, photo courtesy of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte


        Herbert Hechenbleikner, a longtime UNC Charlotte science professor who died Monday at 95, literally shaped the educational landscape of the Charlotte area.  He founded the UNCC Botanical Gardens, which draws 40,000 visitors a year. He planted trees at public schools across Charlotte.  He helped landscape Belmont Abbey College.
          But most people can see his legacy closer to home. Hechenbleikner -- known as Dr. Heck to students and colleagues -- introduced the now-ubiquitous clumps of ornamental pampas grass to the region, says Larry Mellichamp, a former student who succeeded Hechenbleikner as botanical gardens director.
          A mountain climber and snake collector who often did manual labor on campus, Hechenbleikner helped define the UNCC experience since its founding as Charlotte College in 1949.  "A university isn't worth its salt if it doesn't have a real character," said Ken Sanford, a retired UNCC public relations director. "He was one of them."
          Hechenbleikner (pronounced HECK-en-blike-ner) came to the United States at age 3 when his father, an Austrian chemist, took a job at a nitric acid plant in Great Falls, S.C.  Throughout his life he blended the Old World and the American South. He spoke with a Carolinas accent and wore a European-style goatee. He visited historic cathedrals and kept rattlesnakes at his home.
          A UNC Chapel Hill graduate, Hechenbleikner earned a doctorate in biology from Harvard University. The late Bonnie Cone, founder of Charlotte's public university, recruited him when she launched Charlotte College.  "That gave her a good start -- she had a Harvard Ph.D. on her faculty," said Sanford.  The campus moved to its current northeast Charlotte site in 1961. In addition to teaching biology and geology, Hechenbleikner began landscaping the rocky soil. Mellichamp recalls a cartoon in the student newspaper in the late '60s that showed Dr. Heck clenching his fist and commanding, "Grow, dammit!"  He dammed a small spring-fed stream to create what is now known as Hechenbleikner Lake.  In 1964 he got a $1,000 telescope from a foundation and turned an old dairy silo into an observatory, buying fire-escape steps for $50 when the old Selwyn Hotel was demolished.
          In 1966, he launched the
Van Landingham Glen, which became the basis of the botanical gardens. Dissatisfied with his budget for expanding, he took a landscaping job with Carmel Presbyterian Church and used his fee to buy plants, according to a 1966 article from The Charlotte News. 
          Hechenbleikner's influence reached beyond the UNCC campus. He was the first chairman of the Charlotte Tree Commission, which helped the city craft ordinances to preserve its distinctive tree-lined streets.  In the 1950s and '60s he landscaped many public schools in Charlotte; some of the unusual trees he planted survive today, said Mellichamp.
          And he gave generously of time and money, not only to UNCC but to Belmont Abbey, a Catholic college just west of Charlotte in Gaston County.
          Richard Hechenbleikner, one of Hechenbleikner's three children, remembers his father's love of outdoor activity. When he was in his 50s, he could outdo his teenage children at mountain climbing. He retired from UNCC in 1976, but kept working on the gardens for years afterward. And when Hurricane Hugo toppled trees in 1989, an 80-year-old Hechenbleikner cranked up his chainsaw to help his son's family clear their yard.
          Hechenbleikner remained active until a fall slowed him a few months ago, his son said.
          In a city swelled by newcomers, Dr. Heck's name is as likely to draw a blank look as a nod of recognition. But anyone who appreciates gardening and landscaping will encounter his legacy for many years to come.  Even if it's just watching a neighbor struggle to cut back a towering stand of pampas grass.
  – Helms, Ann Doss (29 December 2004)  ‘Dr. Heck’ left mark on region; He founded UNCC gardens, introduced type of decorative grass.  Charlotte Observer, Charlotte, NC.

Hechenbleikner Lake on the campus of University of North Carolina at Charlotte


          Dr. Hechenbleikner, 95, died Monday, December 27th, 2004 at Southminster in Charlotte. Born in Innsbruck, Austria on September 23, 1909, 'Dr. Heck', as he was known by his students and colleagues, came to the U.S.A. at the age of three. His parents were Bertha Scheiper and Ingenuin Hechenbleikner.
          Dr. Heck was predeceased by his wife, Martha Nelson Hechenbleikner and by his sister, Madeline Nichols and his brother, Ingenuin Hechenbleikner. He is survived in loving memory by his sons Herbert I. Hechenbleikner and his wife Kathryn, Richard V. Hechenbleikner and his wife Betty, and his daughter Madeline H. Freeman and her husband Allen. His grandchildren are Walter Hechenbleikner, Mary Margaret Harrison, Nancy Hechenbleikner, Elizabeth Hechenbleikner, Madeline Hechenbleikner, Amanda F. Mallico and Rebecca Freeman. Five great-grandchildren survive him - Walter and Cliff Hechenbleikner, Sarah and Joshua Harrison and Ellison Mallico.
          He is also survived by his step-children, Dr. Henry Niles Nelson, his wife Sherry, and their sons, H. Niles Nelson and Lars Spencer Nelson; William Gaffney Nelson, his wife Peggy, and their children, William Gaffney Nelson, Jr., Clay Martin Nelson and Susanne Darby Nelson; and Elizabeth Nelson Weinzierl, her husband Joe, and their daughter, Madeline Elizabeth Weinzierl.
          A graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill, Dr. Heck received his doctorate in biology from Harvard University and had a special love for plants and the outdoors. With his knowledge of the natural world, he taught students in several science related disciplines, including geology, geography, botany, and biology. After Charlotte College became UNCC, he finished his teaching career there and retired in 1976 as a Professor Emeritus of Biology. With Dr. Bonnie Cone's encouragement and with funding from the Ralph Van Landingham estate, Dr. Heck began the Van Landingham Glen in 1966.
          He eventually expanded the Glen to 10 acres featuring native plant and hybrid rhododendrons. The Glen, the Susie Harwood Garden (begun by him in 1979), and McMillan Greenhouse, all part of the UNC-Charlotte Botanical Garden, draw 40,000 visitors annually.
          Dr. Heck also had a significant impact on Belmont Abbey College through his support of the Biology Department with a scholarship fund and by overseeing the long term plan for landscape design and planting at the college. He also participated by planting bulbs and pruning when necessary. He was inducted into the Tri Beta Honor Society (Biology) and received an honorary doctorate from the college.
          He was the first chairman of the Charlotte City Tree Ordinance committee in the 1960's, and he was an organizer of the North Carolina Wildflower Preservation society, the second oldest state society in the nation. In 1970, he founded the Piedmont Rhododendron Club. In 1992, Dr. Heck received the Governor's Award for Excellence from then governor, Jim Martin, for his work on the tree commission.
          Funeral services will be held 2 p.m. Thursday, December 30th, 2004 at Myers Park Presbyterian Church with a reception to follow immediately in the Parlor. In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to UNC Charlotte Botanical Gardens, c/o Biology Dept, UNC Charlotte, Charlotte, NC 28223 or Belmont Abbey College, Development Office, 100 Belmont Mt. Holly Rd., Belmont, NC 28012.   Harry & Bryant Company is serving the family for Dr. Hechenbleikner.

Published in the Charlotte Observer on 12/29/2004.


PUBLICATIONS (partial list):

Hechenbleikner, Herbert (1969)  The Van Landingham Glen at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.  Journal American Rhododendron Society 23(4):  ?.

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University of North Carolina Herbarium
CB# 3280, Coker Hall
University of North Carolina
Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3280
phone: (919) 962-6931
fax: (919) 962-6930

Last Updated: 13 June 2011