Cedar Valley Arboretum & Botanic Gardens In Retrospect – The first in a series by Paul Kammerdiner


History is defined, according to the dictionary, as, “the whole series of past events connected with someone or something.” For me, everything is about people. That is where the stories are. So, this is not so much a definitive history about a place called the Arboretum, but a kaleidoscope of people and what they started to do; what the collective story was and is; and what it will be. It comes from a bunch of documents, articles, and photos that I dug out of old files. Some of it may not be completely accurate, but that is not intentional. Some of it is what I see in the pictorial record, so that is open to a different interpretation. None of it is meant to be critical, political, or to further any agenda. It is, quite simply, a labor of love – my inordinate fondness for stories. Here begins my take on the story of the Arboretum.

According to an interview with Jan Guthrie and Maurine Crisp, in the late 1980’s local gardening enthusiast Dick Meyerhoff suggested starting various clubs throughout the Cedar Valley devoted to growing things. They would include organizations like the Men’s Garden Club, the African Violet Club, and the Herb Club.
Then in 1994, according to a document in our records titled, “Cedar Valley Botanical Garden Proposal,” a concept was being developed to combine these activities into an actual public space. The organizers listed in this document are Kelly Conrad, Tom Lawler, and Ron Camarata.
This concept was later modified, and Fred Button joined the group which would expand to include Waterloo and Cedar Falls Parks Departments, Cedar Valley Men’s Garden Club, UNI Preserve Alliance League, the Herb Club, Hawkeye Community College, Iowa State Extension, Harmony House Horticulture Program, and Green Scene.
This is a year for laying the groundwork for the realization of the dream.
• A task force is formed to further develop the idea of a public green space in the Cedar Valley. This task force included Charles Lott, Kelly Conrad, Joy Swartz, Jolene Rosauer, Rosemary Beach, Jan Guthrie, Craig Gibleon, Wanda Sauerbrei, Leila George, and Maurine Crisp.
• An agreement is reached with Green Scene to use their non-profit status to begin to fundraise and create public awareness of the desire to create the Arboretum. In exchange, the Arboretum would provide space for Green Scene to keep plant material.
• A town hall meeting is held March 27, 1995, to gain public interest. Approximately 100 people attend.
• In April of the same year, a newsletter is sent out via Green Scene introducing the concept of an Arboretum.
• By May, a site selection team is actively considering six sites that have been offered.
• A 74-acre plot owned by Hawkeye Community College is selected. By the summer of 1995 Tom Lawler, an attorney from Parkersburg, has assisted in the signing of a 99-year lease with the College. The site is just to the east of the college campus on Orange Road
• In September, the Cedar Valley Arboretum and Botanical Gardens at Hawkeye Community College receives its own non-profit organization status.
• October of 1995 the official ground-breaking ceremony takes place.

Arb 1995
This is the site as it looked in late 1995. Hawkeye is the group of buildings in the middle, and, using that as a reference, the Arboretum is the L-shaped red strip below Hawkeye and beside the cropland to the North. The 74 acres included much more than the red line, but this is what was developed at first.

This story is long and complex but will better show the growth of the Arboretum and the many people who have helped us to continue to grow along the way. Stay tuned to learn more about this history in upcoming newsletters!


Gifts for the people who already have everything

When it comes to the holiday season some people have been shopping for gifts since last December. Others may have started shopping in September, and some will be heading out the night before Christmas. No matter your shopping style it can be hard to find the perfect gift for someone who already has everything. Here are three things that you can get for the person who already has everything at the Arboretum!

#3 Products from local and U.S. Artisans

We love to partner with local artists and have a handmade gift for everyone in your budget. One of our most asked about gift shop items is our Window Frame Family Tree wall art. This piece is made by Captivating Crafts in Marion, Iowa and makes a great gift for a new family or loved one celebrating an anniversary. We also have handmade cards, soap, lip chap, framed photos, magnets, and candles! These are a great way to show love for the community and its artists.


#2 Memorial items

Many people think that memorials are meant for when a loved one passes away, however, memorials can be purchased for anything that you think is important to celebrate. One memorial we offer is a memorial brick which can be engraved and is placed in the walkway in front of our Education Center. We’ve had memorials purchased for all kinds of special occasions! The second most popular memorial is our tree and plant memorials. These memorials have a small area for a phrase and contain the genus, species, and variety of the plant or tree. These are a great option if someone you know loves a certain plant or tree. You can also purchase a table, bench, or chair which is placed around the Arboretum and has a plaque with a short phrase engraved.

#1 A Membership

Memberships are a great way to provide a loved one with a chance to be in nature and enjoy time with family or friends. Memberships last for the whole year and provide discounts to classes and events at the Arboretum. Not only does a membership provide free admission to the Cedar Valley Arboretum and Botanic Gardens but can also provide free or reduced admission to over 300 arboretums and botanic gardens in the US thanks to a partnership with the American Horticultural Society. If you have a family that loves to travel and explore this is a perfect gift for them!

playhouse 1

As you finish your gift buying make sure to take time to relax and enjoy the holiday season, and if you’re someone who can’t wait for winter to be over, remember that spring is only three months away!

A Place to Sit and Enjoy the View

Boy Scout Jacob McKnight of Troop 32 from Westminster Presbyterian Church in Waterloo recently built new Leopold Benches for the Arboretum as his project to earn his Eagle Scout Award.



An example of A Leopold Bench at the Arboretum


Leopold benches are easy to build projects created by Aldo Leopold. Aldo was born in Burlington, IA, in 1887 and is considered by many to be the father of wildlife ecology and the United States’ wilderness system. Aldo Leopold was a conservationist, forester, philosopher, educator, writer, and outdoor enthusiast. You can learn more about Aldo here. You can also download the plans to make your own Leopold bench here.

Jacob thought the benches would be a great project to complete for the Arboretum as he had previously visited the Arboretum and suggested that there should be more benches for visitors to sit on. Jacob took the lead to solve the problem and looked up plans for Leopold benches on the internet. After comparing plans he selected one and got estimates for the amount of wood and hardware needed for the benches. He then gathered other scouts to help and adult leaders to supervise the group as they were using power tools.

For Jacob, one of the hardest parts was making sure the measurements were right and that the parts went together correctly. His favorite part of the project was learning about how to build the benches and then seeing the completed benches when they were done. Jacob is very happy to know that his work will be appreciated by all the visitors at the Arboretum!



A tribute by Paul Kammerdiner

There are times in every writer’s experience when the story moves you on many levels. At those times the keyboard gets splashed with tears and you feel foolish, especially when the story is not yours. However, these stories are important and need to be told, even if they have been told before. One would hardly think that trees and gardens would spark certain emotions, but a public space that has been created largely by volunteers lends itself to stories. I suggest that everything related to people contains stories. This one is about some of our history.

There are several definitions of history in the dictionary. Here are two of them:

  1. The study of past events, particularly in human affairs.
  2. The whole series of past events connected with someone or something.

In my mind, the history of people is much more interesting than memorizing events and dates.

I have the privilege of being the unofficial historian of the Arboretum, which just means I like to dig through all the old files and photos that have been stuffed in boxes and file cabinets. Because we have limited storage space for paper documents, many of them ended up in the barn (not an environment conducive to preservation). Recently I have been sorting through what is there and discovered a tote box filled with photo albums, none of which I had ever seen. This new information means I will need to re-write the history that is presently on the website, but that is another story.

Coincidentally, a scrapbook was brought into the Arboretum office by a past volunteer. It was a treasure trove of information on one of the Arboretum’s favorite attractions.

We have two water features at the Arboretum, both of which are fish ponds. One is in the Children’s Garden, and the other is on Tower Hill and is nestled between the Display Gardens and Tim’s Garden. It is called the Forget Me Not Pond. I was sort of familiar with its history, mostly from the sign that is there. Have you ever read it? I mean the top part, not so much the part about the fish.

Forget me not 1

Anyway, back to the scrapbook. I was delighted with its photos and documents and got a much better idea of the full story. The pond was created in 1999, only three years after the creation of the Arboretum.

May is National Foster Care Month, and in May of 1995 Chris Wendel wrote;

“Some people plant a garden with vegetables and/or flowers. They work hard tilling the ground, fertilizing, pulling weeds and trying to protect them from bugs, rabbits, harsh weather. They enjoy watching the life cycle of the plants and with much patience wait for maturity. The satisfaction comes with the tasting of the fruit of their labors or beholding the beauty of creation and being part of it. Next season…. They start all over again.

Why start over again? Do people question the gardener? No.

Do people question the foster parent? Yes. (The secret is not so different)

I’m a foster parent. My garden is children, over 50 varieties in the past 15 years. No two are alike. As the gardener…. It is hard work. We nurture, protect, pull weeds and deal with the storm. It is very rewarding to watch them blossom and go forth. Would I do it all again tomorrow? You bet!”

There you have the inspiration for our fish pond. But like all things at the Arboretum, it didn’t spring from the ground.  After all, there are no fish pond seeds on the market. It took planning, time, money, and hard work. Here is a quote from a letter to the editor written by Sue Strever, program coordinator of the Iowa Citizen Foster Care Review Board at that time.

“Volunteers from the Eastern Iowa Pond Society donated funds and the labor to create a beautiful pond and waterfall, the centerpiece to the garden.

Kelly Conrad of Harmony House in Waterloo volunteered her time to plan the garden, using soft fragrant flowers that could be enjoyed by children visiting the garden. Kelly chose flowers with children’s names such as Lilies, Daisies, and Black-Eyed Susans. All of the plants were donated by Harmony House. Craig Gibleon of the Cedar Valley Arboretum provided technical assistance and support for the project and a bench for visitors to sit and enjoy the garden. Standard Golf donated a beautiful commemorative plaque for the garden.”

forget me not 2

This is the original plaque. It says; “Forget Me Not. Dedicated to all children in foster care, who like flowers, will blossom and grow when given roots and tender loving care.” May 1999

That was the motivation for the project. If anything can be called a labor of love, this is it. So here then, is a pictorial of the Forget Me Not Pond.

You have to survey the site.

Forget me not 3

You have to dig the hole.

Forget me not 4

forget me not 5

You have to line the pond.

forget me not 6

You have to run water lines.

Forget me not 7

You have to wash off the rocks.

Forget me not 8

Sometimes you have to take a break.

Forget me not 9

You have to place the rocks and install the waterfall.

Forget me not 10

You have to plant the trees and flowers.

Forget me not 11

Finally, you get to take a photo of the finished product.

Forget me not 12

This is the only photo that had names with it so I will include them with my apologies to the rest of the people. Unfortunately, the other pictures were not labeled.

These names were from tags signed by the individuals so I may not have them spelled correctly (some were hard to read):

Barb and Dennis Daniels, Harry and Jackie Allsup, Pat and Wayne Beuiter, Dennis and Chris Wendle, Larry Rufter, Rick Fangman, Roger Thurin, Sindelar Dennis, Roger Lynch, Jim Sealman, Keven Jones.

My thanks to whoever brought this scrapbook in and gave it to us. What a joy and inspiration to all the volunteers at the Arboretum!  Finally, a couple of recent photos of the For Get Me Not Pond provide proof of its enduring legacy.

Forget Me not 13

All things change over time. Some of the original trees did not survive, the first sign has been replaced with a new one, and some of the other plantings have like-wise not made it. But true to one of our firmly held sayings, “Ever Changing, Ever Growing,” this garden continues to thrive and is being constantly added to with what we hope are improvements, while always staying true to the vision and dedication of those first creators.

Forget me not 14

Gallery: Seasons at the Arboreutm


By Paul Kammerdiner

Have you ever gone to a play? And as you watched; did you ever wonder what it took to put on the performance, how long it took, what was involved?

As you stroll through the Arboretum and soak in the peace and tranquility this space often provides, did you ever consider what goes into the production?

Just exactly what comprises a season at the Arboretum? Follow along through the photos below

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A Helping Hand: Boy Scout creates compost bin for Arboretum

Back in June Neel Shah of Troop 500 in Cedar Falls completed his Eagle Project to create a compost bin at the Arboretum. Neel was motivated to create a compost bin after he visited the Arboretum and was shown the pile of compost in the back. Neel was disappointed because it looked very unorganized and he was inspired to help build something to make the area look nicer, more organized, and something that was more environmentally friendly.

Neel found out about our need for a compost bin through an email sent to the local scouting district that was shared with troop leaders. Neel’s leader shared the information with him. After talking with Rob, the Executive Director of the Arboretum, Neel had to create a plan to build and needed to get it approved before he could start building. Believe it or not, Neel created sixteen different plans with different blueprints and budgets before he was given the go-ahead to start building!


Neel uses a post digger and the help of an adult to create holes for each of the posts.


Adult volunteers help to align the posts and make sure they are placed in the ground evenly.



Adult volunteers help to create support boards that the plywood will screw into to separate each compost section.


Neel with a few of his volunteers.


Adult volunteers and parents keep a watchful eye to make sure everything goes smoothly during the building process.

With the help of many volunteers, Neel was able to get the compost bin built within a day! Neel says the best part about this project was that after six months of hard work he was able to create a project that helps the environment. Neel also learned a variety of life skills such as how to keep things on a budget and on schedule. He also learned the importance of organization, communication, and leadership skills. Best of luck to Neel as he continues his journey to Eagle!

We’re so excited to have an organized compost bin at the Arboretum thanks to Neel! If you know of a scout looking to get involved you can always send a message to the Arboretum and we’d be happy to help area scouts reach their goals.

19th Annual Fall Harvest Festival to be a 2 day event

19th Annual (2)This year the Cedar Valley Arboretum and Botanic Garden is excited to announce that we are experimenting with a two-day festival! The annual Fall Harvest Festival attracts thousands of local and out of county visitors to the Arboretum. This year’s theme, Grandma & Grandpa’s Garden, is a great time for families to get together and celebrate grandparents and all they do. A list of events will be available on our website at http://www.cedarvalleyarboretum.org/events/fall-harvest-festival/

We are still looking for market and food vendors! If you or your business would like to have a booth or sell food at the Fall Harvest Festival please fill out an application on our website or call the office (319-226-4966) and Beth can mail one to you.

We are always looking for businesses to help sponsor our Fall Harvest Festival. Last year we reached over 4,000 visitors with our one-day event. Interested in what this can do for your business? Send an email to office@cedarvalleyarboretum.org and Beth can send information about sponsorship your way!

Bees & Brews a buzzing success!

On July 22nd Bees & Brews, a new fundraiser that took the place of previous events such as Moonlight and Roses and Monarchs and Margaritas was declared a buzzing success! With over 30 attendees and a variety of brews from local breweries such as Lark Brewing Company, Singlespeed Brewing Company, and Second State Brewing Company everyone had a great time trying new flavors and learning more about the bees.

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“I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence;

Two roads diverged in a wood and I-

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.”


This is the last stanza of a well-known poem by Robert Frost and it has become a symbol to a lot of people about choosing the “other” option. I have found this doesn’t have to be daring or profound but sometimes just fun.

When you visit the Arboretum, you have an array of choices of what to do; none of them wrong! May I suggest something you may not have tried before?

Come out with your hiking shoes on, an old blanket, and a picnic lunch. Take the road less traveled and sit in the shade, listen to the birds sing and soak up the serenity of a wooded glade.

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Volunteer Highlight-Vikki Brauer

for volunteering!

At the Cedar Valley Arboretum and Botanic Gardens, volunteers are a necessary part of our operation. Thanks to the volunteers who do weeding, watering, welcome center greeting and all kinds of other odd jobs we provide a welcoming atmosphere that shares the beauty of nature with those in our communities. We want to thank our volunteers for the work they do. This month’s volunteer is Vikki Brauer.

Vikki lives in Hudson and works as one of our Welcome Center Greeters. She is married and has three children and three step-children, all grown up, 5 grandkids, and 14 step-grandkids. Vikki used to work as a quality engineer and manager before she retired. Vikki started volunteering at the Cedar Valley Arboretum and Botanic Gardens so that she would have something to do in retirement. She enjoys working in the Welcome Center because of the variety. Some days are quiet and peaceful while others are busy and hectic.

Next time you stop by the Arboretum say hello to Vikki!