Janesville71°

Master Gardener pours into program

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Catherine W. Idzerda
January 20, 2008
— In 2003, Deb Grams told the Rotary Gardens staff: “I can’t do anything physical, but find me a job where I can walk and talk, and I’ll be fine.”

Things have never been the same at Rotary Gardens—or in the gardening community.


Grams leadership helped create and build the Rock Prairie Master Gardeners, a volunteer organization that has worked thousands of hours beautifying south central Wisconsin.


Until 15 years ago, Grams was employed at General Motors.


The work took a toll on her body, and she finally retired on disability.


“A friend invited me to take the Master Gardener class with her,” Grams said.


As part of the course requirements, she had to put in a certain number of volunteer hours.


She had to plan her volunteer work carefully so she wouldn’t aggravate her fragile body.


UW Extension and Rotary Gardens Horticulture educator Mike Maddox found Grams working at the Gardens’ gift shop and recruited her to answer plant diagnostic questions.


“It was at that time that we were starting to form the RPMG,” Maddox said. “She became very involved in that process, doing all the background work.”


It was the nitty-gritty, time-consuming work that nobody really wants to do.


As the master gardeners program started to grow, Grams was crucial in keeping the momentum going.


“She really helped define the leadership and keep the group pointing in the right direction,” Maddox said.


The Master Gardeners program has meant great things for the community.


In 2003, Master Gardeners volunteered 3,509 hours in the community; during the last recording period, they worked 8,911 hours.


Projects include the garden at the Rock County Jail, work at a park in Milton, the downtown flower baskets in Orfordville and plantings at Rock Haven Nursing Home.


Grams helped manage the Sunday watering program at Rotary Gardens—a task staff members did in their free time.


She also helped organize Tomato Fest, and she helped get the rain barrel program started.


The rain barrels are designed to attach to downspouts and collect the rainwater for future use. They’ve been sold all over the state.


“Deb really empowers other people to come along for the ride,” Maddox said. “She’s been a team player on many different teams.


“She’s an awesome person,” said Mark Dwyer, Rotary Gardens’ director of horticulture. “She’s a go-to person. When she says she’s going to do something, you always know it’s going to get done—you don’t have to worry about it.”


And here’s what’s funny about all of Grams’ work: She had no idea what she was getting into.


“I didn’t even really know about the volunteer aspect,” Grams said. “I didn’t realize it was an ongoing program.”


And she hadn’t even been a lifelong gardener.


“I think I became interested in gardening the year we were laid off for a while—1991, I think,” Grams said. “I put some petunias on the side of the house.”


Her interest in gardening took off, but it was almost as quickly curtailed by her disability.


“I miss that aspect of gardening very much—there’s nothing better than digging around in the dirt,” Grams said.


Now, her husband, Fred, has to do all the digging and heavy lifting.


This year, along with the flowers around their house, they’ll also have a garden at the county farm.


Grams is modest about her contributions to the master gardener program and instead sings the praises of other volunteers and staff.


She singled out several people, including Jim Haseman, who put in more than 1,000 hours a year working in the Rock County Jail and community gardens and with the rain barrel program.


DEB GRAMS
Age: 50
Community: Janesville
Family: Husband, Fred Grams; children, Jenni, Scott, Diana, Gary, Kelly and Holly; 15 grandchildren
Her garden at home: Perennials and annuals. She and her husband also have a plot in the community garden out at the county farm, but Fred has to do most of the physical work.
Her favorite garden produce: She likes all the peppers, especially hot peppers
Advice to other gardeners: “You’re never done gardening.”
What she likes about her volunteer job: Meeting and visiting with other members
Other ways she helps in the community: She helps with bingo games at the Moose Lodge and has read to kids at local schools.
Other hobbies: Walking
Favorite music: She has 200 discs in a CD player, and she just hits “random.”
People who have influenced her: Her husband, Fred, and his energetic “get it done” attitude; her parents who stressed the value of hard work; Rotary Gardens volunteer coordinator Julie Gibes, whose energy and spontaneity inspires everyone around her; and Jim Haseman, a Master Gardener volunteer who worked more than 1,000 hours in a year.
Something you might not know about her: She makes a great egg salad.
Achievement she’s most proud of: “It makes me feel really good to know that we’re helping educate people in ways they can help themselves—we teach them how to garden, so they can live better and healthier lives.”

She’s also pleased that the Rock Prairie Master Gardeners’ rain barrels are ending up all over the state.



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