Linda Kunesh of Carol Stream and Ron Fruin of Lombard recognized for ‘Helping Others Learn to Grow’

NAPERVILLE, Ill. – The University of Illinois Extension Master Gardener program recognized two DuPage County volunteers for excellence in serving their communities. Linda Kunesh of Carol Stream and Ron Fruin of Lombard each earned a 2021 State Master Gardener Award in September. The award recipients were honored during a virtual ceremony at the annual Master Gardener conference.

The State Outstanding Master Gardener Award recognizes the best of University of Illinois Extension Master Gardeners, and the Sustained Excellence Master Gardener Award recognizes those who continue to achieve high standards. Only 1 to 2 percent of active Master Gardeners are honored annually.

“Nominees must demonstrate leadership, initiative, and follow-through; collaborate well with other volunteers or organizations; and keep up with continuing education,” said Karen Davis, DuPage County Master Gardener program coordinator. “Both of these individuals bring energy and passion to their local volunteer teams and projects, and they deserve to be honored for their dedication to helping others.”

Linda Kunesh with a certificate
Linda Kunesh

Linda Kunesh: Sustained Excellence Award

Linda Kunesh is the dynamic team leader for the award-winning therapeutic horticulture program at the DuPage Care Center in Wheaton. The project serves 65 residents through a garden club that includes a raised bed space for each participant and regularly-scheduled guided lessons to plan, plant, and care for their plants. She oversees 20 Master Gardener volunteers weekly and more than 60 volunteers annually, who combined logged 18,000-plus hours over 12 years.

“She personally logs more than 300 hours per year,” said Davis, who added that Kunesh originally won a State Master Gardener Award in 2013. “Linda’s passion for the project shines through in all her efforts, including obtaining grants and donations to install new features, such as a pavilion for outdoor lessons, a paved patio, and pollinator garden.”

Through the garden club, care center residents not only gain a sense of independence, but also a sense of community. Additionally, the fresh air and activity helps boost their physical, mental, and emotional health. Volunteers also harvest hundreds of pounds of fresh produce to donate to the People’s Resource Center food pantry.

Ron Fruin with a certificate
Ron Fruin

Ron Fruin: Outstanding Master Gardener Award

For three years, Ron Fruin has been an active, dependable part of the local Master Gardener team at the Anne M. Jeans school garden in Willowbrook and the DuPage Care Center in Wheaton. At both projects, he helps others learn to grow their own food, while building companionship and skills.

“Fellow volunteers and project participants enjoy working with him due to his easy-going, friendly demeanor,” Davis said. “He regularly goes well beyond both the volunteer hour requirements and continuing education unit requirements, and he shares great ideas at both the project and program levels.”

Fruin also completed Natural Areas Conservation training through the Morton Arboretum’s certificate program, and he recently took on a stewardship role with the DuPage County Forest Preserve District. In this capacity, he will serve as a team leader for the tri-county Master Naturalist program’s efforts.

“Both Linda and Ron exemplify the leadership and qualities of Master Gardener excellence,” Davis said. “We are proud to have them part of our excellent team of volunteers and lucky to have them helping serve our communities.”

To learn more about the University of Illinois Extension in DuPage County, visit


SOURCE: Karen Davis, Extension Program Coordinator, University of Illinois Extension serving DuPage, Kane, and Kendall Counties

ABOUT EXTENSION: Illinois Extension leads public outreach for University of Illinois by translating research into action plans that allow Illinois families, businesses, and community leaders to solve problems, make informed decisions, and adapt to changes and opportunities.

PHOTO ACCESS: The photos in this article are available to download for media use