Dec 13th, 2019

Thank You, Volunteers!

Volunteers at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden are the heart and soul of everything we do. Simply put, there would be no Dominion Energy GardenFest of Lights without them.

Each year our volunteers spend countless hours preparing for the show, wrapping lights, building structures, and brainstorming ideas about how they can make this year’s show even better than the last. Then, when the light show starts, they take on a whole new range of volunteer opportunities.  In fact, there are 21 different roles for volunteers and 20+ shifts to fill each night that the show is open! When you visit GardenFest you’ll see countless cheery faces with their signature lanyard badges welcoming you, directing you, handing you will call passes, scanning your Eventbrite tickets, even taking your family photo in front of the holiday tree in the Conservatory.

Anita Waters, Ellen Hartenburg, Bay Seale, Elam Jerrells, Maggie Southwick, Diane Harris

Garden Guides are volunteers who give tours to groups and tell visitors about our Garden.  They are our volunteer experts! Here are Anita Waters (volunteer for 18 months), Ellen Blencowe (volunteer for 10 years), Bay Seale (volunteer for 13 years), Elam Jerrells (volunteer for 5.5 years), Maggie Southwick (volunteer for 7 years and a staff member prior to that), and Diane Harris (volunteer for 4.5 years). Combined, they have a total of more than 42 years volunteering at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden. Image by Harlow Chandler.

We have a whopping 700+ volunteers at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden and over half of them — 384 — work during GardenFest. There are more than 925 volunteer shifts to fill during each year’s show and so the simple truth is we could never host GardenFest without them! Last fiscal year our volunteers worked 7,677 hours JUST on GardenFest. That’s the equivalent of 1,024 full days of work! So far this year, our wonderful volunteers have worked over 3,500 hours; we expect to exceed last year’s number.

It’s not uncommon to find a volunteer who has worked here for 20 or 25 years. Do you remember what Lewis Ginter looked like 25 years ago? Here’s a reminder. There wasn’t much here. The Robins Visitor Center and Kelly Education Center had not yet been built. The Visitor Center came in 1999 and the Kelly Education Center didn’t arrive until 2002. Our plantings were mostly new. We hosted a very modest 3,296 visitors 25 years ago. This year we hosted 408,928 visitors!

But most importantly we love our volunteers. They are the heart and soul of everything we do. There is simply no way that we could pay them back for their gift of time, attention, caring and love that they extend to our Garden and our visitors. We try to thank them in a few earnest ways for these priceless gifts. Twice a year we take a turn at serving them dinner and performing some wild charade or song and dance to entertain them. Needless to say, it’s a fun tradition. Each year we honor one special volunteer with a lifetime achievement award. We offer volunteers a range of benefits including a free Garden membership after 100 hours of service and discounted or free classes.  And, this year, for the first time, we invited volunteers to preview GardenFest before anyone else. But, most of all, we thank them by simply telling them how much we appreciate them.

You may notice a common thread in when you meet our volunteers. They are good-natured, humorous, happy, and extremely nice people. These folks show up each day ready to learn something new, meet interesting people and make a difference in our community with their service. For many of our devoted stewards, volunteering at Dominion Energy GardenFest of Lights is how they celebrate their holiday season. After all, there’s nothing like watching kids and families enjoy the winter wonderland that is “Magic in the Air.”

Thank You, Volunteers!

Mike Spence volunteers with the trains. Image by Harlow Chandler

Mike Spence was on Lewis Ginter’s staff for about three years and has now been a volunteer running the Conservatory trains for 3-4 years. “The year before last I came every day of GardenFest to clean them. This year I have two guys lined up to help…the trains run five hours a night and each night in order for them to run smoothly I  clean the track and oil the engines.” Image by Harlow Chandler.

Irina Neverova volunteers in the greenhouse

Irina Neverova has volunteered in the Greenhouse with Senior Horticulturist Laurel Matthew for nearly 3 years.  After enjoying the GardenFest preview she says, “Everything looks great! It’s mesmerizing.” Irina is wearing a beloved sweater she designed herself that was knitted by her mother, who has since passed away.  Image by Harlow Chandler.

Three volunteers. Image by Harlow Chandler

“I like to call us the master weeders,” says four-year volunteer Patricia Dempsey, center. She and her friends Meredyth Nelson (left) and Anita Walters (right) are all from the “parking lot team.” Yes, parking lots need to look beautiful too!  Image by Harlow Chandler.

Rose Garden Volunteers and staffer Laurie McMinn. Image by Harlow Chandler

“We love Laurie,” says Rose Garden volunteer Catherine Walker (left) who has volunteered with Rose Garden horticulturist Laurie McMinn (center) for the past two years. Rita Hendricks (right) has volunteered for nearly a year and says,  “I’m new to Richmond and volunteering here is a great way to meet new people.”  Walker’s favorite thing about volunteering? “All the people — the other volunteers — we’ve had a blast and the staff: Justin [Brown], Sean [Bassemier], Tyler [Crossen ], and Mary [Lincoln] they are truly amazing. They are delightful to work with.”  Image by Harlow Chandler.

Image by Harlow Chandler

Betty Woo (right) has volunteered at Lewis Ginter for 13 years in every role from a Garden Guide giving Early Bird tours during GardenFest to serving the Bloemendaal Council, the volunteer-led leadership group. She’s pictured here with  Mike Gannon who, along with his wife, has volunteered in a number of roles including in horticulture with Senior Horticultist Elizabeth Fogel for the past four years.  His favorite part of volunteering at GardenFest?  Two wedding proposals, one last year, one the year before. “It’s always fun here to come and watch the kids,” Mike says. “Young kids and old kids,” says Kelley Gannon. “This is a terrific way to be part of the Richmond Community and extend the resources of the Garden to holiday visitors,” Mike Gannon says. “It gives people a reason to come back every year. It’s different every year.”  Image by  Harlow Chandler

Two women volunteers who are friends. Image by Harlow Chandler

For 20 years, Gisela Carson, left, has volunteered at Lewis Ginter in a variety of roles. The one thing that hasn’t changed: she has always watered the East Wing of the Conservatory and she has, every Tuesday, for 20 years! During GardenFest, Gisela likes to work in the Conservatory near the Holiday Tree. “People want their pictures taken. I like taking peoples’ pictures. Everybody is so happy. Everybody’s smiling!” Lacy Becton, right, also volunteers in the Conservatory with Horticulturist Ryan Olsen.  Image by Harlow Chandler.

Volunteer Dick Abbot, Image by Harlow Chandler

Dick Abbott, a volunteer for 23 years, is an original “Ginter Geezer.” His favorite thing about volunteering is “Being in the Garden, the wonderful people you meet, the staff.  [Former Executive Director and President Emeritus] Frank Robinson took the Garden over the top, then [Executive Director]Shane [Tippett] improved it even more. You don’t work at the Garden — it’s not work — it’s such a pleasure. I love it! I love Christmas time. Everyone is so excited about Christmas. It’s just a wonderful experience. I hope to see 21 more years [of volunteering].” Image by Harlow Chandler

Stuart Long and Janet Forte -- volunteers. Image by Harlow Chandler

Stuart Long has volunteered in the Asian Valley for five years.  Janett Forte has volunteered half as long but it’s clear they’ve become fast friends during the weekly gig. When I asked them their favorite part about volunteering here, Janet immediately responded:  “Working with him!” Stuart was just as fast with his reply: “Giving her a hard time!” “Our [Asian Valley] team is pretty cool and [Horticulturist] Shannon [Smith] is great!” Stuart says.   Image by Harlow Chandler

Image by Harlow Chandler

Annette Carbone (right) has volunteered for three years in admissions and Wilma Milam (left) has volunteered in Central Garden with horticulturist Dean Dietrich for four years.  But they take botanical illustration classes (all of them!) together, which is how they became friends. Volunteers can get classes for free on a standby basis. Image by Harlow Chandler.

Special thanks to garden volunteer Harlow Chandler who volunteered his photography talents to photograph our dedicated volunteer crew.

Jonah Holland is PR & Marketing Coordinator at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, specializing in social media. She's been known to go for a walk, and come back completely inspired to write a blog post on her newest found adventure.

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