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In Memoriam: Richard J. Naskali

September 18, 2018

Richard J. "R.J." Naskali, 82, passed away Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018, at Gritman Medical Center in Moscow.

A special event to remember "R.J." will take place from 2-5 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 23, at the Best Western Plus University Inn at Moscow. Friends are encouraged to bring a story to share. 

Raised on a farm in Ashtabula, Ohio, Naskali began working with plants at an early age. He earned a Bachelor of Science in Floriculture/Ornamental Horticulture and a Master of Science and Ph.D. in Botany from The Ohio State University. As an undergraduate, he was a member of the 1956 Flower Judging Team, which won first place in intercollegiate competition in Denver, Colorado.

From 1967 to 1987, Professor Emeritus Naskali taught botany, plant anatomy and advised students in the University of Idaho Department of Biological Sciences. In 1987, President Gibb appointed Naskali the first director of the U of I Arboretum and Botanical Garden, a position he held until his retirement in 2003.

Naskali was responsible for the initiation and development of the 63-acre arboretum, which now houses over 17,250 collection plantings, a xeriscape garden, and several endemic Palouse species. His goal was to fulfill the master plan for the arboretum to become a living-learning classroom. Today, plants from Asia, North America and Europe, display gardens, ponds, pathways, benches and commemorative groves and plantings fill the site. Naskali helped raise most of the early funding from private donations.

In 2002, Naskali was recognized with the President's Medallion from U of I. Among other awards, he twice received the Daryl E. Snyder Alumni Award for Outstanding Service from the FarmHouse Fraternity. He has authored many papers, holds a plant patent, and has lectured extensively about his international travels.

The University of Idaho Retirees Association and University of Idaho Alumni Association presented Naskali with the "Idaho Treasure Award" in 2009 in honor of his significant achievements in service and leadership to U of I during retirement.

R.J., as his friends call him, was also a passionate student and collector of botanical art. He traveled around the world to view, study, and collect botanical artwork. In the fall of 2003, R.J. was responsible for bringing over 100 selected works from the Hunt Institute's 10th International Exhibition of Botanical Art and Illustration to the Prichard Art Gallery. He included among his prized personal collections an 1837 folio album of watercolors from Singapore.

His retirement years were filled with extensive travel to all corners of the globe to photograph the dazzling variety of life that exists in the natural world. Highlights include 15 trips to western European countries, two expeditions to Antarctica, one visit to Madagascar and multiple stops throughout Asia.

He was preceded in death by his parents, William Arnold and Elizabeth Agnes (Olsen) Naskali; and his brothers, William Arnold Jr. and David Brian Naskali. He is survived by his sister, Janice Wilma (Naskali) Meade Coon of Andover, Ohio; and his sisters-in-law, Jean Naskali and Barbara Naskali, both of Ashtabula, Ohio.

Naskali has been recognized for his guest lecturers, exquisite botanical photography, expert consulting on ornamental horticulture and garden tours throughout the world. But, his legacy for generations to come is the aesthetic mark he made on a corner of the U of I campus.

"If you seek his monument, look around you." (Sir Christopher Wren)

In lieu of flowers, donations should be made to the Richard J. Naskali Endowment for the Academic Advancement of the Arboretum in the University of Idaho Foundation ( or 208-885-4000).

About the University of Idaho

The University of Idaho, home of the Vandals, is Idaho’s land-grant, national research university. From its residential campus in Moscow, U of I serves the state of Idaho through educational centers in Boise, Coeur d’Alene and Idaho Falls, nine research and Extension centers, plus Extension offices in 42 counties. Home to nearly 12,000 students statewide, U of I is a leader in student-centered learning and excels at interdisciplinary research, service to businesses and communities, and in advancing diversity, citizenship and global outreach. U of I competes in the Big Sky Conference. Learn more at