Dr. William Schurter: A Green Thumb for Cultivating the Future
By Carla Maldonado
According to Dr. William Schurter, there are only two rules when it comes to orchids: The first rule is to always buy more orchids, and the second rule is if you don’t have room for more orchids, then make more room! And that’s exactly what the Schuters have done. Originally the orchids lived in the couple’s sunroom. Now the couple has more than 500 plants and two full-size “his” and “hers” greenhouses.
Schurter is nothing if not a nurturer. By day, he’s a math professor who encourages his students not only to learn, but to learn not to fear math. By evening, he’s a horticulturist devoted to his orchids that he also encourages to multiply and divide.
Schurter didn’t always teach math or grow orchids. His first career was that of an Army officer, who, with an engineering background, was focused on logistics operations and the research and development of missile systems. He retired a lieutenant colonel after 27 years of service, but not before he discovered what he wanted to do during his “second life” - he wanted to teach.
Some of the Shurters' orchids require daily watering.
His attraction to teaching began while he was stationed in Germany where he taught evening math classes at Schiller International University in Heidelberg. He enjoyed it so much that when he retired in 1992 to San Antonio, he continued to teach math as a part-time instructor at several local colleges and universities. After he joined the adjunct faculty at UIW in 1995, he began taking graduate courses. Within a few years, he was teaching at UIW full time, and in 2001 he earned the distinction of being one of the first two students to receive a doctorate degree from the university. It was a Ph.D. in education with a concentration in mathematics education.
“I tell all of my students to never give up their dreams,” Schurter said. “I was 60 years old when mine came true.
“I love my job. Every day is a joy because the greatest satisfaction in the world, the absolute highest high one can have, is to be able to help a student who has had difficulty with math to suddenly begin to understand.”
Outside the classroom, Schurter follows another passion: growing orchids, which is a hobby he and his wife, Christel, pursue together.
“I never intended to grow orchids,” Schurter said. “And for the first 13 years of my wife’s hobby, my job was to drive the car and write the checks. But then I decided I wanted to share her hobby because it would be nice to have a common interest and do things with her. So I bought my first three orchids.
“Now, growing orchids has become a way to relax and forget about the stresses of life.”
Schurter gives all the credit to his wife. He said she always wanted to grow orchids, but it was a difficult and expensive hobby in her native Germany. After they were reassigned to the U.S., his wife bought her first three plants in California. Two years later, they moved to San Antonio, and with them, Christel’s orchids. Luckily she had only 50 at the time, so they all fit into the rented moving truck.
The green-thumbed couple return to their Canyon Lake home after a day in their "his" and "hers" greenhouses.
Christel also has the distinction of having received two awards from the American Orchid Society. Her first award was a Highly Commended Certificate for an Angraecum leonis, which also gave her the honor of giving the orchid a clonal name; she named it “Christel’s First.” The second award, an Award of Merit for her Trichopilia tortilis, was given this past April. Inspired by the orchid’s petals, she named this winner “Twisted Beauty.” This name and award, like the first one, will be recorded for posterity by the Royal Horticulture Society in England.
As the Schurters share their hobby with others and actively participate in orchid shows and club meetings, it’s obvious they have found a beautiful way to balance work with play. It’s also obvious that someone has a very green thumb – the Schurters make growing orchids look easy.
They insist anyone can grow orchids and the plants aren’t as fragile as they look. The secret, they say, is to understand where your particular orchid came from and its specific needs. The requirements can vary greatly from orchid to orchid because there are thousands of species that grow all over the world.
Also, caring for orchids takes a lot of time and attention to detail. For example, some of the couple’s orchids are watered and fertilized daily, while others are watered much less often. The key to being successful, they say, is to talk to someone who is knowledgeable about orchids to get you started.
And they should know. The Schurters have infected many an unsuspecting visitor with the orchid bug, and even their own daughter in Germany wasn’t immune. She has more than 20 orchids in her collection. They are helping to make the world a more beautiful place, one bloom at a time.