Local Master Gardeners recognized

Marianne C. Ophardt, WSU Benton County ExtensionJanuary 8, 2014 

The 2013 Master Gardener program recently recognized local volunteers for their work across the Mid-Columbia.

It's remarkable that Washington State University Extension Master Gardener volunteers in Benton and Franklin counties gave during 9,500 hours of service to our local communities.

These hours were spent helping residents learn to successfully garden. Some assisted with starting Kennewick's first community garden, others served as mentors for those gardens and others taught classes. Also, a large number worked to maintain the Demonstration Garden in Kennewick. Master Gardeners also staffed plant clinics, where they provided free advice about solving garden and landscape problems.

The original purpose of the Master Gardener program was to help WSU faculty answer the deluge of gardening questions that the WSU Extension offices across the state were receiving. The program started in King and Pierce counties in 1972 and quickly spread throughout the state and the nation. The Benton-Franklin program started in 1974.

When I arrived in the Tri-Cities in 1980, about 10 to 15 volunteers were being trained each year in the Benton-Franklin Counties Master Gardener program. Today, there are more than 50 new volunteers along with 75 to 100 veterans each year.

Since 1980, the program has experienced many changes, but one person has been a constant: Betty Daughtry. She has helped as a program assistant for more than 20 years and served as a Master Gardener since 1978. Last month, she was recognized for 35 years of service.

When asked why she has returned year after year, Daughtry said it was because of the people she had the opportunity to work with in the program. She said she also delights in learning something and from the training program.

There are other remarkable local Master Gardeners. The 2013 Master Gardener of the Year was Bill Dixon. Dixon was recognized for his number of hours of service and for the leadership he has provided to the Community Garden/Plant-a-Row Team. Bill worked with Kennewick to start the community garden in Jay Perry Park, solicited seed and transplant donations for giving to gardeners who were willing to plant an extra row to donate to local food banks, and organized Master Gardeners who were willing to serve as mentors to local community gardens.

Laurie Barger was recognized as the 2013 Master Gardener Intern of the Year. She helped by teaching gardening classes to children, assisted in building an educational exhibit for the county fair, staffed the plant clinic and helped support the program in numerous other ways.

It is because of the dedication of Daughtry, Dixon, Barger and other volunteers that the WSU Extension Master Gardener program has been able to grow beyond what anyone would have predicted.

-- Marianne C. Ophardt is a horticulturist for Washington State University Benton County Extension.

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