25-Year Celebration of Master Gardeners in Yellowstone County

Billings Montana; MetraPark, 4-H Building; May 18, 2019
by Amy Grandpre
photos by Sherry Doty

[Editor’s Note: in previous posts and the printed newsletter credit for photos in this article was given to Amy Grandpre and Merita Murdock. Our apologies to Sherry for the mixup!]

Twenty-five years is quite the marker for an organization, and the best thing to celebrate when it involves dedicated volunteer service to our community.

JAS 02

The celebration was presented as a birthday party, with birthday party decorations, a HUGE card for all to sign, and a table filled with some 50 wrapped gifts, distributed during the event. And since it was a rainy, dreary day, a great day for gardeners to gather and enjoy an indoor BBQ potluck.

In 1994 it was a gathering of nine Billings citizens, simply interested in learning more about how to grow their yard and garden plants more successfully in our challenging Montana environment. JAS 03Those students present:

  • Annette Bayley
  • Johanna Freivalds
  • Bobbi Hylton
  • Diane Kostelecky
  • Joe LaRue
  • Berta Morrison
  • Merita Murdock
  • Evelyn Popelka
  • Edith Yapuncich

It was a very exciting time, as we were witnessing the beginnings of BIG technology. We gathered at Eastern Montana College (now MSU Billings) to experience something called MetNet Video Teleconferencing. This was one of several sites across the state, set up to host the first Master Gardener classes. Participants watched live classes, being taught by specialists in Bozeman… and the sites also had the ability to ask live questions to the instructors. This was a big deal.

We had a total of six classes:

  • Composting by Mike Vogel
  • Urban IPM by Sherry Lajeunesse
  • Insect ID by Will Lanier
  • Soils & Fertility by Jeff Jacobsen
  • Plant Disease by Jack Riesselman (still seen on Ag Live)
  • Horticulture Wrap-up by George Evans

We had three project/activities that year:

  • Master Gardener hotline
  • Plant exchange/potluck
  • Garden tour featuring our own Master Gardener gardens

Total 1994 Volunteer hours = 43

In 1998, Bob Gough picked up the program and under his watch and care it exploded. This man was passionate, witty, charming and just made learning fun. There was no snoozing in his classes, as he was a master at engaging his students.

 

Today, our program is an active 130-participants strong with hundreds passing through our program through the years. We have 25 active projects, and in 2018, Yellowstone County Master Gardeners logged 3,000+ hours. Total hours recorded since 1994 is 50,000, which is lean, as not all our Master Gardeners log their hours.

What made this event extra special were the guests who came from our past to celebrate with us. Among the most honored and recognized were three from our original class:

  • Annette Bayley
  • Diane Kostelecky
  • Merita Murdock (of course Merita is most active currently)

These three were gifted with Extension sun hats in appreciation.

Then several of our past Program Coordinators came to celebrate and were recognized as well. These included:

  • Ann Finley, 2002 Program Coordinator
  • John Levar, 2008 Program Coordinator, and wife Nan
  • Karen Lindeke & Ruth Sheller (now in her late 90s), 2004 Program Co- Coordinators
  • Ann Hillman, 2005–2014 Program Event Notification Coordinator

Other honored guests:

  • Dwayne Bondy, Class of 2000, was ZooMontana grounds keeper
  • Rosemary Power, Class of 2006

 

Master Gardeners present who have been with the program 8+ years were recognized:

  • Merita Murdock, Class of 1994
  • Mary Davis, Class of 2002
  • Tom Kress, Class of 2003
  • Vonnie Bell, Class of 2003
  • Ann Guthals, Class of 2007
  • Bob Wicks, Class of 2007
  • Sharon Wetsch, Class of 2007
  • Joann Glasser, Class of 2008
  • Sheri Kisch, Class of 2008
  • Dave Kimball, Class of 2009
  • Joyce Hendricks, Class of 2010

2019 Level 1 and Level 2 graduates present were recognized, and volunteer accomplishment awards were given to:

  • Sherry Doty: 400 Volunteer Hour Award
  • Fay Danielson: Level 3 Certified

A moment of silence was given to honor our Master Gardeners who have passed:

  • Roger Pitet (2003)
  • Jackie Bradshaw (2005)
  • Joe LaRue (2006)
  • Berta Morrison (2007)
  • Bob Gough (2011)
  • Vicki Thomas (2011)
  • Jane Howell (2012)
  • Shirley Spildie (2013)
  • Edith Yapuncich (2013)
  • Julie Halverson (2019)

 

A chalk art contest was part of our celebration activities. Bob Wicks was able to score some fabulous trophies for the event!

  • First place went to Annette Bayley
  • Second place to Linda Williams

Our celebration finished up with a long-awaited dedication of a Mock Orange tree to honor Dr. Bob Gough. The linden tree previously dedicated June 25, 2012, had perished due to a poor growing environment. Two plaques (made by Master Gardener Roy Wahl) were placed to mark the event:

Always In Our Hearts
– Yellowstone County Master Gardeners
Bob Gough “Dr. Bob”
“A Most Excellent Teacher”
Philadelphus coronarius (Mock Orange)
Dedicated May 18, 2019

Special thanks to Bob Wicks and Brian Godfrey for helping DJ the event, and to Merita Murdock and Debbie Wicks for making the delicious cupcakes that made the event extra special.

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