The Garden’s 2023 Partners & Volunteers of the Year

As the end of the year draws near, it’s a natural time of reflection and gratitude. We’re proud to announce that it’s been a record-breaking year at the Garden with incredible visitation numbers, the opening of the Carol & Bruce Bell Children’s Garden, and the continuation of outreach programs.

Still, this would be impossible without the overwhelming support we receive from the businesses, organizations, clubs, and individuals in our local community. So, let’s learn more about the partners and volunteers who have been especially impactful at the Garden in 2023!

Corporate Partner of the Year

US Bank

US Bank began its support of the Garden in 2016 by contributing to support the Perennial Performance Capital Campaign to build the Schneider Family Grand Garden and Amphitheater. From there, US Bank Corporate has provided sponsorship for not only a number of our exhibits and WPS Garden of Lights, but also the Sanimax Concert Series, stepping up to take on Lead Sponsorship in 2021.

Alongside US Bank Corporate, over the years, the US Bank Foundation has also provided significant grant support to the Garden. They’ve supported a number of our Youth and Family Educational Programs and school field trips. They’ve also backed our Nonprofit Ticketing Program which provides general admission passes to the Garden through our collaboration with our Nonprofit Partners. These passes enable low to moderate income members of our community to enjoy all the Garden has to offer and provide families quality time to spend together and experience the natural environment. Over the past two years, the Foundation has provided grant support for our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion initiatives, including our Access Membership program.

US Bank also values volunteerism in our community and the impact it makes for area non-profits, empowering their employees to provide volunteer time, including at the Garden. Over the years, several groups have volunteered with various horticulture related projects. We are honored and humbled by the generosity of time and treasure US Bank has provided to the Garden over the years. Thank you on behalf of all of us!

Founder’s Award

Dr. Jeff Rafn

The Founders Award was created to honor a group or individual who has made a difference in helping the Garden achieve its mission.  Dr. Jeff Rafn, now retired president of NWTC, has fostered a very successful relationship between the Garden and the college. 

Since our beginning, Jeff and the college have helped the Garden be successful in many ways as our landlord. They continually show up for the Garden, providing a variety of services, such as printing, parking overflow and assistance, public safety services, and a variety of training programs for our staff.

Then, there are the many, many hours of student internships, community service, and a number of trained employees that have to come work at the Garden.  In return, the Garden pays a $1/year lease, plus 10% of our general admission revenues to the Foundation, which goes back to the students as scholarships. Since 2010, that equates to over $177,000.

Volunteers of the Year

Budding Volunteer – Horticulture: Dan VerBruggen

Dan is a consistent, hardworking new contributor to the Horticulture Team, bringing his can-do attitude to every task asked of him, in all weather conditions. His plant identification skills make it easy to get on the same page with the task at hand. When Dan walks through the door, we know it will be a great day for the Garden!

Budding Volunteer – Education: Nan Pahl

Nan began the season with Story Time, entertaining young guests with nature stories, and then jumped in to help with our Discovery Stations when staff members were unavailable. She also helped train new Story Time Volunteers. We appreciate Nan sharing her time, talent, and enthusiasm this season and look forward to more to come.

Education: Diane Lenz

Diane has been a Garden volunteer since 2017, leading both youth field trips and adult tour groups. This season, she led 14 youth trips! After the opening of the Bell Children’s Garden, we could not have gotten through the season without her expertise in leading groups and helping to train new volunteers. We thank Diane for sharing her love of the Garden and connection with nature.

Guest Experience: Mike Malchow

Mike is a valued longtime Events volunteer, and this year he joined the Guest Experience Team. Throughout his twice weekly shifts, he shares his love of the Garden and ensures each guest has a wonderful experience. He strives to learn all he can to assist guests and has contributed so much to making things run smoothly during this very busy summer.

Horticulture: Sue Ellingson

Sue is here almost every week, with a smile on her face and ready to take on the next project. She is instrumental in creating holiday magic with the natural trees displayed throughout the Fischer Visitor Center, collecting flowers for them throughout the season, creating floral ornaments, and decorating the trees for WPS Garden of Lights. Tried and true, we can always count on Sue!

Special Events: Dale Bartel

PC: John Oates

Dale frequently jumps in to assist the Events Team in the key role of Wedding Guest Relations volunteer. Dale’s smiling face greeted our guests so kindly and welcomed them to the Garden, sharing his extensive knowledge to enhance their experience. Dale is also an integral member of our Education volunteer group, sharing his knowledge through adult tours.

Special Events: Cookie Oryall & Mary Vandermuse

If you attend any of the Garden’s summer concerts or special events, you are sure to see our “Dynamic Duo” parking team, Cookie Oryall and Mary Vandermause, dressed in neon yellow vests and directing our guests safely to their parking spots with their flashing orange wands. They are here in any weather, and always with smiles on their faces. They are seasoned parking experts who train and welcome new volunteer parkers.

Thank you to all who have visited, volunteered at, or otherwise supported the Garden this past year. Here’s to many more years to come!

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