Tribute to Jon A. Kusler (1941-2020) ASFPM Friend and Mentor

Oct 19, 2020 | What's New

By Larry Larson, P.E., CFM

Last Thursday, the nation and ASFPM lost a dear friend and mentor, Jon A. Kusler. Jon was instrumental in the formation of the association, our conferences and committees, and much more. Importantly, Jon wrote model state floodplain management legislation which many states used as a template in adopting their laws in the 1960’s, 70’s and 80’s. He did a project for the Water Resources Council in the 1980’s to look at what all states were doing on floodplain management. That document is in the ASFPM library. He also drafted model floodplain management ordinances that were adopted by many communities in the nation. Jon researched and wrote many of the key legal documents that communities and states use for implementing and enforcing floodplain management ordinances. Those served as a basis for our No Adverse Impact initiative; the toolbox and NAI how-to guides.

Jon Kusler, Larry Larson and Mary Lou Socia

Jon Kusler (left) with Larry Larson and Mary Lou Socia at the 1987 ASFPM annual conference in Seattle.

Jon helped us produce not only our annual conferences, but theme-based conferences on unique hazards, coastal management, multi-objective management, and many others. His CV spans 15 pages, and that’s just part of the story. To get a sense of what Jon accomplished, Google his name and take a deep dive into the pages and pages of his achievements and contributions, national boards and commissions he served on as well as awards, reports, research, and publication he wrote on managing floods and wetlands to reduce flood losses and protect natural floodplain and water resources for the nation. You will become exhausted just reading about it. He was a remarkable human being who advanced our profession more than almost anyone else (he would want me to say “with the exception of Gilbert White”).

Perhaps most importantly, Jon was a wonderful person; kind, humble, concerned and worldly, and as his son Gilbert says — a man of adventure, kindness, passion, and intellect. Jon and I would take long walks along lakeshores in Madison while discussing what we could do to advance the profession and make the world a safer place. When the Great Midwest Flood occurred over a six-month period in 1993, we worked with the Clinton administration (Jon knew key people in the administration and they agreed we should hold meetings along the Mississippi River and other areas impacted in the Midwest to identify approaches to help the affected nine states and hundreds of communities build back better to avoid these problems in the future.

Jon also started the Association of State Wetland Managers in 1984, which continues to be a voice for wetland values and a valuable partner of ASFPM. We collaborate closely with them on many activities and projects.

If those of you reading this wish to honor Jon’s legacy, please share your comments to our website by emailing us at the form below (we’ll post them as soon as we receive them) or post to the memorial page on the ASWM website. If you wish to donate in his honor, we suggest you donate to the Jon A. Kusler Student Scholarship Award on the ASWM website.

Memories from colleagues and friends

Jon was the person that always had more ideas than you had time to discuss. He reminded me of the celebrated homerun hitters of baseball that had plenty of strikeouts, but when they connect with the ball it is a thing of amazement to watch the ball land in the upper deck…time after time. In the summer of 1993 in the midst of the Great Midwest Flood, I as ASFPM Chair, and Larry Larson met with Jon in DC to discuss a path forward to leverage this flood for policy gain. What emanated from that time was the most influential shift in floodplain management policy across all agencies. Jon was a partner and mentor to us, but most important he got the door open for us into the Clinton administration such that we engaged the administration from day 1. This led to jointly held meetings in Missouri that brought Sr agency staff, White House staff, congressional staffers, and state officials to discuss a new path forward. ASFPM was justifiably proud of what was accomplished, however it was a Kusler long ball into the upper deck and his partnership that set the stage for much of what happened in 93-95. As a nation we still benefit from that vision today.

– Doug Plasencia

Jon was a great man. I have fond memories of him when I was Chair. He definitely earned his place as an “environmental star” in our profession. He will be missed.

– Lisa Sharrard

I live about 20 miles from where Jon settled in rural southern Albany County, NY. I had the good fortune of also working with his wife Patty at the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Patty was director of the fish and wildlife division and I was chief of the floodplain management section. Patty called me in to help comment on Corps of Engineers regulations and she get her staff to work with me on advanced flood risk reduction recommendations. 

One time, Jon and Patty invited me to provide input on a one day conference they were planning. I got to see two amazing and compatible minds in action together. Jon had the unique ability to go off in several directions at once without ever losing the connection between them all. 

Living in the same local area, I occasionally ran into Jon. I believe he attended a church in my adopted home town of Schenectady and I ran into him a few times on my way to the Sunday morning farmers market. I had actually met him years earlier when I was a grad student at UMass Amherst and Jon shared an office in an old armory with my former academic advisor Rud Platt. It was Rud who started me on my own life in water resource and then floodplain management.

While I didn’t know Jon extremely well, I’m fortunate for the conversations I had with him and to have been exposed to his humor and his humanity. He will be missed.

– Bill Nechamen

I sent this to my students upon learning of Jon’s passing:


I wanted to share with you this time of tribute to Jon Kusler who has made monumental contributions to floodplain and wetland management. It’s an email from Larry Larson on Jon’s achievements.

Why am I bothering you about this? As you progress in your career, you will more and more appreciate the standouts that have moved the ball forward. It is not easy to move the ball forward, and Jon was a ball carrier, a mentor and collaborator. Jon is seated with the Gilbert White crowd, as we now say major “influencers” or “change maker” in their field.

You may recall me saying that the top people in takings case law were Ed Thomas (our guest speaker), Samantha Medlock and Jon Kusler. I will be bold and say that both Ed and Sam would credit Jon as being an important mentor and friend.

We stand on the shoulders of those that came before us and mentor us. Let us advance the ball – it is how we pay them tribute.

– John Miller

I think I first met Jon in the late 1970s in relation to an ASFPM meeting. He became a regular, always with good ideas and good advice. When I ran for Chair in 1987, Jon cornered me and gave me his advice on one of the top issues of the day. I took it and it worked. It always paid off to listen to Jon Kusler and our profession is now the better for it.

– French Wetmore

I met and talked with Jon at several ASFPM conferences … I wish I could have gotten to know him better from out here in Oregon. I could tell from the instant I met him that he was a genuine person and passionate about protecting the aquatic lands where humans and nature meet. He will be missed, especially for those intriguing hallway conversations at conferences.

– Kevin G. Coulton

I loved that Jon did the DC thing as well as he did the rural living thing. Back in the 80s I lived in Vermont and our paths would cross in DC as well as in upstate NY and in Vermont. He was so imaginative and I was so impressed with this floodplain and his wetlands organizing and writing, I am sorry I had lost touch in recent years. Love seeing the thoughtful warm comments from Larry, French, Doug and others.

– Eve Gruntfest