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Volunteer Spotlight: Sharon Reader and Peggy Koppmann

Lauren Hare

Volunteers are the muscle and the heart of the Botanical Gardens. We have hundreds of volunteers supporting our mission and helping keep our daily operations and special events running smoothly. At a glance, you might only see our docent volunteers. However, volunteers come in every day in many different positions: tour docents, hands-on docents, horticulture team, facilities maintenance, administrative work, gift shop/guest services, special events! You can learn more about all these different opportunities on our website. Each and every volunteer who gives their time is valued. We couldn’t be where we are today without them, thank you all for your dedication!

Today we are going to take a moment to highlight two volunteers who have gone above and beyond, and we feel compelled to give extra recognition. Sharon Reader and Peggy Koppmann. These two outstanding women put endless hours into our Great Plant Sale this year, making it one of the most successful to date. “They’ve been invaluable, they do things we don’t have time for…” says Kristin Pochopin, Director of Horticulture, “They kept things moving and put up with my crazy schedule! They spent hours here during the sale, just talking to customers.” In fact, before the Great Plant Sale was completed, they were planning for next year’s sale! Now, coordinating such a huge endeavor may seem like a big enough feat, however neither of these women stopped there!

Sharon started in 2004, volunteering in the education department. She helps teach minds of all ages about the wonderful world of flora through our docent program. When asked about why she started, Sharon recalled, “Part of it is Peggy and I were educators for so long, and when you retire, you can’t just stop because you’re so used to being busy…for both of us, it’s a love of plants and a love of people.” Sharon also has been involved in other facets of the gardens. She currently comes almost weekly as a hands-on docent for education or general horticulture help. This entails working with classes who come in, leading in group activities, and other general plant maintenance.  She sits on the Volunteer Luncheon Committee, which is a group of volunteers who help plan our annual Holiday Luncheon fundraising event for the Botanical Gardens. She is also a member of the Volunteer Advisory Committee, where she represents all 400+ volunteers here at the Botanical Gardens. She does all this on top of her commitment to the Great Plant Sale, and other Botanical Gardens activities.

Peggy started in 2003 in our horticulture department. Today, when she’s helping the horticulture team, she mainly works in the outdoor peace garden. She remembers starting volunteering here because “I was going to do something in the city, because it was before Buffalo’s revival. So with plants and the city it was the perfect combination.” Her expertise in plants and gardening have made her an invaluable asset in many areas. She not only volunteers regularly, but she leads classes for other horticulture volunteers to help spread her wealth of knowledge. She has also joined the Plant Collection Committee; this committee ­­­­­regularly meets to discuss the well-being of our plant collection. With her practical knowledge of all things horticulture, it was a natural fit for her to begin helping on the Great Plant Sale. She began helping plan the GPS four years ago and has helped enhance and grow the event beyond what we could have hoped for when she started.

Interview with Sharon & Peggy 

To really get an idea of these women though, it perhaps would be best to share some of a conversation I got to have with them talking about their time working with the Botanical Gardens.

 

How did you get involved with the Great Plant Sale?

Sharon: We got involved in the Plant Sale because we talk too much!

Peggy: We did! We came in, and we had worked the plant sale, and people were like ‘well, we need to do this differently, we need to do that differently’ and so we started writing it all down. And I wrote it all up, and I think Sharon and I brought it in, and the next thing you know.

Sharon: They said “Well, ladies!”

Peggy: So how long have we been doing it now?

Sharon: Four years definitely, possibly five. I think the first year was kind of experimental.

Peggy: The first year all we did was wrote the descriptions for the newsletter/order forms.

Sharon: But after that we got into it pretty heavily, and that has been one of my favorite parts! Going out to Jan Henry’s in July/August and sitting down with 8,000 catalogs and all of her computer lists and saying ‘What about this petunia? What about this plant? What about that one?’ That’s fun. We like picking the plants, we like choosing things that will be different, and things you won’t find someplace else. That’s been a lot of fun.

Peggy: And just seeing the reaction from people. And when the plants come in, seeing what they look like, did we make good choices, didn’t we make good choices, what can we do for next year? And it has been great working with Kristin, because there finally is a sense of organization. We have a list of what we sold in ’15, ’16, ’17 ’18 and ’19, so we don’t repeat. Instead of thinking… ‘did we sell that a couple years ago?’ we can go to our papers and decide we don’t want to sell that again.

 

What do you like most about being a volunteer here?

Peggy: It has been a very satisfying place to volunteer, I am a volunteer in horticulture and in the shrub garden too. There are times when I have pulled that weed I’m pretty sure for 5 years, 10 years, 15 years. But there is a certain kind of satisfaction and I think part of it comes with the growth of the Botanical Gardens, the whole expansion of their mission, and way of looking at themselves in the community that has made a big difference.

Sharon: I tell anybody, if you’re looking for making new friends at an older age.

Peggy: (laughs) Hey, careful

Sharon: If you’re looking to do different things, this is one of the greatest, because you have the chance to be outside, you can do things inside, you can work with kids, not work with kids, it’s a real diverse place to volunteer.

Peggy: That’s one of the advantages, it’s not the same old thing all the time. So I think that part is really nice. And we’ve made some wonderful friends. The Christmas Committee over a number of years have become good friends. So we have a lot of fun working together. We argue, and we yell at each other, then we come out of it with great stuff!

Peggy: I think for me, it has been the people that we work with, the Horticulture volunteers, the GPS people, and then we’ve had a lot of fun with Josh and Andrea and Kristin over this last year.

 

What advice do you have to give to people thinking about volunteering?

Sharon: For people who are looking to volunteer, people who are coming out of jobs and don’t know what to do. When you volunteer, you make new friends that will last just like the friends that you have from your jobs. Peggy and I laugh because we’re very much alike. And we didn’t know that! We have a mutual friend

Peggy: She kept saying, have you met Sharon yet? But I was in the garden pulling weeds, and she was teaching. So when we finally did meet with the GPS so we really had a lot of fun since then.

Sharon: We have been cohorts to say the least.

 

Any last thoughts?

Peggy: I was working as the master gardener at the plant sale, and there was a women that came… she turned out to be a dynamite lady, a very interesting and everything. So she had gone home to her partner and said ‘I met these wonderful people at the botanical gardens at the plant sale’ and he said to her ‘I think you found your tribe’ and I thought ‘that’s the way to think about these volunteers, I think you found your tribe’

Sharon: Yes, later in life, you can have new tribes!

Sharon: I think it’s important, in my case, for my grandchildren to see that I’m giving back. Because they ask “how much do you make?” and I say “well, I don’t, I volunteer” and they ask “well, what do you mean?” I do this because I love to do it, and they’re starting to see this is a good thing to do. I think it’s important for kids to see it.


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