25 Years of Volunteers: How Hours of Service Helped the Garden Grow, Then & Now

By Josie Knuth, Marketing & Communications Intern

Looking back at the last 25 years since Green Bay Botanical Garden opened, we’re especially grateful for the garden lovers in our community who have dedicated their time to the Garden and its mission. Without their help, the Garden truly wouldn’t be the success that it is today.

Let’s take a walk through the Garden’s history of volunteers and discover the many contributions they’ve made in early years to today. While there’s much to share about all that volunteers have done for the Garden, here are some of their most notable contributions.

VOLUNTEERS PLANT INTEREST IN LOCAL GARDEN

In the years before the Garden opened in 1996, volunteers organized and participated in community outreach and partnerships, all crucial to the early stages of the Garden’s development. Garden Fair, garden walks, and private tours sparked interest in a local botanical garden and quickly became a favorite of residents in the area.

These events attracted volunteers of all kinds, giving the community a glimpse of what a potential garden could look like. The community saw the Garden’s potential and began offering additional service to establish ground.  

men and women volunteer in garden 1996
First Director of Horticulture, Jerry Landwehr (left), working with Garden volunteers to open the Garden in 1996.

HELPING THE GARDEN TAKE SHAPE

Before construction began, standing telephones had to be relocated from the future garden lot. Forty hardworking volunteers showed up on a cold Saturday in January and cleared the land within a few days.

After the land was ready for construction, volunteers continued to offer their time for the future botanical garden. As landscapes and pathways began to take shape, volunteers planted borders of trees, shrubs, and flowering plants that outline the Garden to this day.

volunteers working garden fair booth
Volunteers working a booth at Garden Fair.

Jim Tubbs, a long-time volunteer, offered his time and talents before the Garden was established and has good memories during the early years of construction.

“At that point in time, there was very little concept of what the Garden would become.” Tubbs describes the labor-intensive task of clearing land for the formal gardens. “The Garden had very little equipment, so it was hard work!”

Jim put his chain saw to good use, clearing trees and shrubs from the area that is now the Larsen Remnant Orchard.

VOLUNTEER NUMBERS GROW AS THE GARDEN GROWS

Developments in the Garden slowed down upon completion of phase one of construction in the early 2000s. While the Board of Directors worked to strengthen the partnership between the Garden and Northeast Wisconsin Technical College (NWTC), volunteers continued to devote additional time to tend to existing garden areas and educational programs.

At this time, the number of volunteers continued to grow, requiring a new volunteer and horticulture center including changing facilities, storage rooms, and gathering spaces.  

“The addition of the Horticulture building and a significant purchase of equipment along with increasing the staffing of the Garden made it even more enjoyable to volunteers,” Tubbs explains.

volunteers weeding garden
Weed & Feed, 2004

VOLUNTEERS REMAIN A CRUCIAL PART OF GARDEN SUCCESS

As years went by, the Garden solidified the financial support needed for a bright future yet its success still relies heavily on passionate volunteers who have served and continue to serve the Garden.

Many volunteers who’ve been a part of the Garden’s history are the smiling faces that greet visitors as they arrive for a summer concert or WPS Garden of Lights. Others are can be found out in the Garden regularly planting, weeding, and watering or leading a school tour among spring blooms. A group that assists the Horticulture Team every week even nicknamed themselves the Happy Hoers!

WPS GARDEN OF LIGHTS BRINGS VOLUNTEERS

Late summer and fall bring more volunteers year after year to prepare for the Garden’s biggest fundraising event, WPS Garden of Lights.

Since 1996, they’ve spent time building metal frames, stringing lights, and spreading mulch to create light displays for the visitors of all kinds to enjoy in November and December. During the light show, many others volunteer to help direct visitors in the parking lots, take tickets, serve concessions, and more.

This annual fundraising event would not be possible without volunteers!

While many volunteers give the gift of time and hard work, volunteers also receive something in return: good memories, friendships, and pride to carry with them for a lifetime.

“The most enjoyable part of volunteering is meeting and volunteering with so many wonderful people,” explains Tubbs.  “I usually volunteer on Tuesday mornings when about a dozen or so ladies and men meet and work from 8 to Noon. We break at 10 to enjoy the most wonderful and delicious food and desserts and talk.”

“The slogan when the Garden started was ‘Watch Us Grow,’” says Don Giese, looking back on his many years as a volunteer, first with his dad, Lloyd Giese, in the 1990s. “When I see the joy and peace others find in our work, especially families, I am very proud of that continuing 25 years later.” 

Ackerman states her pride comes from watching the nonprofit grow over the years and seeing its impact on the community. “It is a botanical garden that is known far and wide, yet makes sure local needs are met. Staff, donors, and volunteers have combined to make a great contribution to this city and state.”

“I am amazed at how the Garden has grown and developed into a real gem,” Tubbs remarks. “I am so impressed that so many people gave so much to make the Garden what it is today. Those people are so special, and it makes one proud to be a volunteer here.”             

As Don’s father, Lloyd, always said, “It is not just about flowers, it is about people.”

We have an enormous appreciation for all the people who have volunteered since the Garden came into being and before it even opened its gates. Their invaluable hours of service have not gone unnoticed.

Interested in helping the Garden grow? Visit our website for information on volunteer opportunities!


This story originally appeared in the 2021 September-December Newsletter.