2019 Outsanding Master Gardener Award Winners from Rock Island and Henry Counties
Five area Master Gardeners received Outstanding Master Gardener awards at the Illinois State Master Gardener Conference in East Moline, Ill on September 6: Linda Clewell of Moline, Deb Durnal-Corso of Andalusia, Deb O'Brien of Port Byron, Gail Pickering of Neponset, and Steve Swisher of Davenport.

(EAST MOLINE, IL) Five area Master Gardeners received Outstanding Master Gardener awards at the Illinois State Master Gardener Conference in East Moline, Ill on September 6: Linda Clewell of Moline, Deb Durnal-Corso of Andalusia, Deb O'Brien of Port Byron, Gail Pickering of Neponset, and Steve Swisher of Davenport.  The award was established to honor the best of Illinois Master Gardeners. Only 2% of Illinois State Master Gardeners win the award annually. Criteria for award winners is they must exceed in leadership, determination, positivity and be highly involved in the program.  University of Illinois Extension horticulture program coordinator Tracy Jo Mulliken said, “These Outstanding Master Gardeners are an integral part of the program and their service helps to extend many horticulture educational programs throughout our community. We are fortunate to have such talented volunteers.”

Here are some examples of the volunteer work they do for their communities: 

Deb Durnal-Corso is always willing to lend a hand and is involved in a variety of Master Gardener projects, whether via leadership or on the backside following up on details. Deb shares her creative writing and computer skills by working with Extension horticulture staff to make educational and “how to” pamphlets on gardening and on specific plants and vegetables. She writes articles for the “Dig It!”  Master Gardener newsletter, develops power points for the Master Gardener’s Speaker’s Bureau, and writes the educational signs for the Master Gardener’s display garden at the QCCA Expo Center’s Flower & Garden Show. She also volunteers to help with the MonArc Pollinator Patch project at The Arc of the Quad Cities. She is Intern Mentor for new Master Gardeners, helping them understand their role and find projects and connections to help them be successful.

Linda Clewell serves as the secretary for the Rock Island County Master Gardeners. She also serves as co-chair for the MonArc Pollinator Patch program, working with a  team of Master Gardeners to bring monthly horticultural educational programs to Arc clients. She is co-chair of the mentoring program and an Intern Mentor for new Master Gardeners, helping them understand their role and find projects and connections to help them be successful. She is on the the Pollinator Patch youth gardening committee to share weekly gardening programs with youth throughout the summer. Linda also assists in bringing horticulture outreach lesson to schools, helps with the Master Gardener projects at the QCCA Expo Center’s Flower & Garden Show, and volunteers to assist with the Nursery School: Lessons in Gardening symposium.

Deb O’Brien is both a Master Gardener and a Master Naturalist and enjoys sharing her time and talent to extend knowledge to people of all ages. She is Co-chair on the Master Gardener’s Educational Display Garden at the QCCA Expo Center’s Flower and Garden show. She and her committee prepare for months to make sure all details are addressed for the final display garden that is enjoyed by thousands of visitors each year. She has worked with youth via Extension’s horticulture outreach to area schools, and volunteers to lead environmental lessons to elementary students attending the spring and fall ECO Camp field days at Black Hawk Park and Loud Thunder. Deb also helps with the MonArc Pollinator Patch garden projects serving those with disabilities at the ARC. She is an Intern Mentor for new Master Gardeners, helping them understand their role and find projects and connections to help them be successful.

Gail Pickering of Neponset is a great asset to the program and brings her enthusiasm and knowledge to initiate new horticulture programs that benefit her community.  As a retired teacher, Gail is able to unite her two loves- youth education and gardening.  She jumped right in and started gardening with youth in her hometown, developing after-school gardens. She also worked with Extension staff to launch horticulture outreach lessons to K-5th grade students in Henry and Stark Counties, reaching between 800 and 1,000 students each school year.  Gail also took her enthusiasm to older adults by organizing a sensory garden for the residents of the Liberty Village of Geneseo. Gail helped the staff secure funding and worked with Extension horticulture educator Martha Smith to design the beautiful and educational sensory garden. She worked with her fellow Master Gardeners to install the garden that is now enjoyed by the residents and their visitors.

Steve Swisher co-chairs the Master Gardener’s educational display garden for the QCCA Expo’s Flower and Garden show. He makes sure all details are addressed by helping to plan all aspects, from the physical layout of the garden to each educational component. He also volunteers on many Master Gardener projects including the Pollinator Patch youth program, and the demonstration vegetable gardens at Riverside. He also helps lead groups of youth at the spring and fall ECO camp at Black Hawk Park and Loud Thunder, helping to share environmental programs to elementary students. Steve also serves on the Rock Island County Master Gardener board and is always working to improve the program by having open and honest conversations about strengths and weaknesses and to develop a plan to move forward. He also serves as a mentor to new Master Gardeners coming into the program.

New Master Gardeners are accepted into the program each year through on-line and in-person trainings. If you are interested in becoming a University of Illinois Extension Master Gardener, contact Tracy Jo Mulliken at (309) 756-9978 or email her at tmully@illinois.edu The next in-person training will take place at the Rock Island County Extension office in Milan, IL starting January 24th and meet each Friday for 11 weeks from 9 am – 4 pm. The classes are led by horticulture educators from the University of Illinois Extension.