Volunteer Spotlight: Paul Kammerdiner

Many visitors may not know this, but The Cedar Valley Arboretum was created by volunteers, and, for many years after, was maintained solely by volunteers.  Because of this, we have a large group of very dedicated helpers – some have even been involved at the Arboretum since its inception in 1996.  Today, we have a base of over 150 people who come to the gardens to help us each year – whether it’s a one day service project or a volunteer job as a weekly mower.

They make our organization not only possible, but they help it run much more smoothly.  Because of this, we love to show them some deserved recognition.  Sometimes, we recognize them through a simple verbal thank you or a hand-written note card, other times, like in this case, we write a blog article about them.

The star of this volunteer spotlight is long-time volunteer, Paul Kammerdiner.  Paul has been involved in documenting our tree collection and history, creating our Perennial of the Year Garden, giving educational tours, and much more.  I sat down and talked with Paul to learn more about why he volunteers, what he does here, and how it has affected his life.  The remainder of this article is in an interview format.*

*Interview has been edited

L: How did you first get involved in the Arboretum?

P:  When I was little, my grandparents lived in Waterloo but had two lots, one lot was their house and one lot was a vegetable and flower garden.  My grandma had every plant imaginable.  So, I was always exposed to plants, but I never had much of an opportunity to work with them myself.

In 2009, I was part of the Master Gardeners Program, and, at the time, they needed 40 volunteer service hours and 40 education hours to become a Master Gardener.  My friend, Melinda, introduced me to the Arboretum.  I also retired in 2009, so I needed something to do.  I enjoyed the Arboretum, so I came back.  My house is a regular, smaller home with an ordinary lot, so I use the Arboretum as an outlet for planting and enjoying things that I love that I don’t have room for at my house.

L:  Tell me a little bit about your involvement with the Perennial of the Year Garden.

P:  It goes back to 2010, when we had long range strategic plans, including taking out our community gardens [note: the Community Gardens were located between the Rose Garden and the Enabling Gardens].  Another part of the plan was planting perennials in that area to add some color, but that never happened due to financial restrictions.  I decided to take the initiative to put in perennial plants.  So, I picked them out, purchased them, and then put them in.  Our Planning & Operations Committee, they suggested making the garden a Perennial Plant of the Year Garden.  I also added some small trees to break up the plants and add texture and shape to the garden.

The PPOY Garden is an ongoing, trial and error process.  Each year, some plants need replaced, and some plants need added.  I also enjoy searching and finding the rarer Perennial Plant of the Year winners.

Paul Planting

Paul taking care of the plants in the PPOY Garden

L:  So, how did your interest in trees form [Note: in the past, Paul has helped us catalog our tree collections]

P:  I have always liked trees, especially in urban settings, I think you need trees.  Once I started mapping out the trees at the Arboretum, I started researching trees more and more.  I found that I really had a passion for them.

L:  Do you have a favorite tree?

P:  Oh wow, that’s a tough one!  My favorite ornamental tree is a Japanese Lilac.  It has the most over powering aroma.  I love it!  Sycamore trees are my favorite otherwise – they get so tall!  The only tree I don’t like is a Box Elder tree, for obvious reasons [laughing].

L:  Great!  Can you tell me a little bit more about your time spent working on cataloging the Arboretum’s history?

P:  It started out when we were going to build the barn and we had to move boxes and file cabinets full of stuff.  So, we [a small group of volunteers] started moving things and discovered many old photos and scrap books.  This really caught my attention, and I became very curious about how the Arboretum was started.  I asked some of our volunteers that had been around since the beginning, and they told me stories about the Arboretum’s past.

As I listened, I realized that I had an interest in documenting and preserving the history.  I started going through photos and articles, and I just wrote everything down.  I love writing, and this is a great way to combine that passion with my passion for the Arboretum.

L:  Writing is a hobby of yours?  Have you written anything else that you’d like to share?

P:  Actually, I wrote a novel!  It’s a mystery, kind of a cross-genre, a coming-of-age mixed with a mystery.  It’s hard to actually get published, but it was a labor of love for me.  Writing is a hobby of mine, outside of the Arboretum.  I love classic movies and reading.  To Kill a Mockingbird is my all-time favorite.  Catcher in the Rye, I hated that book [Sticks out tongue].

L:  How has the Arboretum changed or affected you or your life?

P:  I tend to be somewhat of a recluse.  I’m a functioning introvert.  But being out here [the Arboretum], there’s such a tremendous group of people out here that make you want to interact socially, which is good for me.  You know, otherwise I’d be a hermit.  Most of my other hobbies are indoor hobbies, if I didn’t have somewhere for a more physical outdoor outlet, I would be more out of shape.  This place helps keep me young!

Paul cropped

If you are interested in becoming a volunteer at the Arboretum, you can learn more here.

If you want to hear more from Paul, you can come to his spring tree hike on May 15th  

Learn more about Paul’s tree hike here.


Article by Libby Carter


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