By David Horst email@example.com
TOWN OF MENASHA — To explain how well Donna VanBuecken knows her craft, I only have to recall a native plant rescue she organized probably 15 years ago.
I was among a group of volunteers who were to dig up native plants from a prairie that had been planted at a Fox Cities medical facility. The owners were advocates of native landscaping but they needed the space to expand the business and, well, business is business.
|Donna VanBuecken is retiring from Wild Ones|
Through some act of miscommunication, the prairie was mowed the day before the rescue. We wandered through the field of stubble unsure what was weed and what was flower. Donna, executive director of Wild Ones Native Landscapers, not only recognized which were keepers, but she could recite the species.
VanBuecken has announced her retirement and the Wild Ones reports it is close to naming her sucessor.
She has led the somewhat national organization headquartered in the Town of Menasha for 17 years. Wild Ones has chapters in 15 states, mostly in the Midwest and Great Lakes regions.
When VanBuecken stated in 1998, Wild Ones had 18 chapters. Today there are 54. Membership has grown from 356 to 4,000 households, businesses and affiliates. She brought in $1.2 million in grants over her career.
She is responsible for the headquarters being in a former residence on Butte des Morts Road overlooking the Stroebe Island Marsh in 2007-08. She swung a deal that included state grant money and rent payments for what is now the parking lot being used for sludge storage for the Fox River PCB cleanup.
“I am so grateful to be able to say that Wild Ones owns the WILD Center mortgage-free because of the generosity of Wild Ones members, court actions of the PCB cleanup of the Fox River and Wisconsin’s Knowles Nelson Stewardship Fund,” she said.
In recognition for all she’s done, the expansive native prairie at the WILD (Wild Ones Institute of Learning and Development) Center was named the “Donna VanBuecken Prairie and Native Plant Garden” at Wild Ones’ recent national conference.
“I haven’t done this alone,” VanBuecken responded to the assembled membership. Addressing the board members and volunteers, she said, “I can’t thank you enough for all you’ve done.”
She said her husband, John, has made her work with Wild Ones possible, both economically and by his tolerance for time spent away from home.
She listed getting to know the members, traveling around the country and spending time with Wild Ones founder Lorrie Otto as other highlights of the job.
While manicured Kentucky bluegrass is still the norm in most neighborhoods, VanBuecken says Wild Ones and the rest of the native landscaping movement are making strides. Part of the credit goes to the Great Recession, she said.
“For a variety of reasons, people seem to have begun to realize how their livelihood is linked to everything else on the Earth,” she said. “People seem to be taking a more active role in the responsibility for their well-being.
“They’re beginning to realize, for example, how important native pollinators are to the food they eat. So they’re starting to understand the important role native plants play in that relationship and to accept that native plants might be just as important, if not more important, to have in their gardens and community green space.”
Stewardship organizations are working together more, she said, and reaching wider audiences.
An old school conservationist, retirement will give Donna time for her other passion, turkey hunting. She is certain to continue to pursue Wild Ones’ motto of “Healing the Earth one yard at a time.”