The Chicago Botanic Garden recently held a volunteer awards reception for 2018 service in Nichols Hall to recognize years of service, as well as the many hours contributed by more than 1,000 volunteers last year.
“I am so delighted to honor our dedicated Garden volunteers,” said Judy Cashen, the Garden’s director of volunteer administration and engagement. “Each June, we gather to celebrate the partnership between staff and volunteers, along with recognizing their exceptional gift of time and generous support to the Garden.”
Volunteers who have dedicated 5, 10, 15, 20, 30 and 40 years of service were honored at the reception. Joanne Schmitz was especially commended for having served at the Garden for 40 years. Collectively, the time committed by volunteers in 2018 reached more than 100,000 hours.
Volunteer of the Year
Awarded to: Jerry Podolsky of Wheeling
Jean Franczyk, president and CEO of the Chicago Botanic Garden, presented the Volunteer of the Year award to Jerry Podolsky of Wheeling. Podolsky was unanimously chosen for this prestigious award after serving nearly 4,000 hours as an assistant engineer in the Model Railroad Garden. Podolosky is deeply respected by both staff and volunteers and was described by his colleagues as “a rock of stability” to the railroad team. Since 2002, he has volunteered twice a week as often as possible. His love of meeting people is evident and he brings a warm smile each day he is at the Garden, rain or shine.
Kris Jarantoski Excellence in Horticulture Volunteer Service Award
Awarded to: Jerry Macek of Des Plaines
Tom Nissly, executive vice president and CFO of the Chicago Botanic Garden, presented the Kris Jarantoski Excellence in Horticulture Volunteer Service Award to Jerry Macek of Des Plaines. This award is presented for extraordinary service and exemplary commitment toward supporting the Garden’s horticulture collection. Macek has shared nearly 1,400 hours of dedicated volunteer service in the Landscape Garden. Macek is known for being eager to help with any assignment, “even deadheading daffodils in the hot sun for hours.” Since 2002, he has showed up with a smile and has seen the positive of any situation. His co-workers say, “You simply cannot spend time with Jerry without feeling inspired and grateful." He is known for his love of the Chicago Botanic Garden, his great interest in horticulture and for his willingness to go above and beyond, setting a great example for all volunteers. We are so grateful to have Jerry as a volunteer.
Barbara Whitney Carr Excellence in Leadership Award
Awarded to: Martha Belew of Wauconda
Nissly also presented the Barbara Whitney Carr Excellence in Leadership Award to Martha Belew of Wauconda. This award is presented to dedicated volunteers who have shown innovation and provided excellent leadership with outstanding results toward a Garden program or project. Belew has volunteered at the Garden since 2003, serving with the Living Plant Documentation and Lenhardt Library volunteer teams. To date, she has given nearly 4,200 hours of volunteer service. She is known for her deep love of the Garden, for being kind, supportive and detail-oriented. She is currently leading a volunteer team project that includes transferring all of the 335,000 bloom observations recorded since 1997 into spreadsheets. Martha enjoys bringing people together to research, share and document for the archives. Her co-workers share that she is a pleasure to work with, and that she should be recognized for her tireless service.
Five-Star Customer Service Award
Awarded to: Jean Lytle of Arlington Heights
Harriet Resnick, vice president of visitor experience and business development, presented the Five-Star Customer Service Award to Jean Lytle of Arlington Heights. This award is presented to a volunteer who exemplifies five-star customer service at the Chicago Botanic Garden. Lytle has volunteered at the Garden since 1999, giving nearly 1,500 hours of dedicated service. Lytle still works full time, so she assists our youth education staff with family programs on Saturday mornings. Over the years, she has also assisted with Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden programs and with many special events. Jean is described as “a positive force to be reckoned with” and “she always brings 100 percent, rain or shine.” She has a special talent for welcoming people into whatever she is doing. Jean will walk around the Nature Play Garden to tell children about the free programming currently running. In addition, she has volunteered for almost every youth program that has been offered at the Garden.
Super Senior Award
Awarded to: Rita Inserra of Deerfield
Judy Cashen, director of volunteer administration and engagement, presented the Super Senior Award to Rita Inserra of Deerfield. Inserra is a deeply respected volunteer who began her service in 1998 and has given more than 1,100 hours of service. She consistently demonstrates all of the qualities that anyone would hope for in a colleague: precise and thorough, warm and welcoming, and helpful and appreciative. She has volunteered as a special events volunteer team leader, having trained hundreds of volunteers at Garden events. Inserra also volunteers at the Regenstein Learning Center information desk. She is beloved for her beautiful smile, ever-present calm demeanor, witty sense of humor and enthusiasm for living life to the fullest.
Each volunteer was given a Phlox ‘Perfectly Puzzling’ perennial plant to take home. These plants feature three different colored flowers on one plant, including white, violet and dark raspberry. Brian Clark, manager of plant production, shared how the plant production team propagated the plants from cuttings. Clark said each of his staff members, including many volunteers, nurtured these plants to be as robust as they are for the dedicated volunteers of the Chicago Botanic Garden.
To learn more about volunteer opportunities at the Garden, please visit or contact Judy Cashen at (847) 835-8392.
Images are available for media download here.