Lawn sign "2020 state outstanding master gardener award winner"
The Advocate BroMenn Meditation Garden in Normal, Ill., is a project planned and maintained by the McLean County Master Gardeners.

You may not know the names of Illinois’ Master Gardeners, but you know their work. A hospital campus has a calming meditation garden tended by their hands. Urban homeowners have the confidence to plant after testing their soil and consulting with trusted experts. Under the watchful eye of volunteers, children with nets capture, tag and release monarch butterflies on their fall migration.

This is their passion and their mission is helping others learn to grow.

Volunteers of University of Illinois Extension's Master Gardener program were recognized at a virtual awards ceremony Oct. 2. The annual awards ceremony recognizes the work of the 2,700 volunteers around the state who provide horticulture-related assistance to their communities.

“The 2020 awards ceremony looked a little different than previous years,” says Candice Hart, Master Gardener state specialist. “Recognizing volunteers who go above and beyond is an important part of our program and it was more important than ever to make it happen this year."

Master Gardeners are adults of all ages who love gardening and volunteer with Illinois Extension offices in their county to provide educational horticulture information. In 2019, 2,719 Master Gardeners donated 189,392 hours answering questions, leading programs and volunteering at community garden projects.

Local Illinois Extension staff also presented winners with certificates, pins, and plaques, and lawn signs were delivered to their homes. Some staff even organized watch parties and local parades as a special tribute to award winners.

"Our volunteers contribute so much to their communities by helping others learn to grow and we appreciate their hard work and dedication today and every day,” Hart says. 

Awards were given in three categories: Outstanding State Master Gardener, Sustained Excellence and Teamwork.

Outstanding State Master Gardener Award

In 2020, 29 volunteers received the Outstanding State Award. This award honors volunteers with an exemplary breadth and depth of involvement in the program. Only 1% to 2% of active Master Gardeners are recognized annually. 

Recipients: Mary Lou Angone, Whiteside County; Kathy Baker, Tazewell County; Diane Cook, McLean County; Janine Donahue, Tazewell County; Debbie Edwards, Vermilion County; Randy Edwards, Vermilion County; Randy Edwards, Vermilion County; Carol Gardner, Livingston County; Christine Grafelman, Peoria County; Pat Gunnerson, Kendall County, Colleen Haas, Kane County; Beverly and Don Harsy, Perry County; Pam Hohn, Champaign County; Randy Huber, Peoria County; Anna Kaczarek, Piatt County, Patty Kahle, McLean County; Robbin Keenan, LaSalle County; Cathy Lane, Tazewell County; JC Nashland, Macon County, Karen Pepple, Cook County; Debbie Rathert, Madison County; Robin Reynolds, Lake County; Donna Siders, Ford County; Sally Skoff, Will County; Jacqueline Tanaka, Cook County; Lee Wallace, Coles County; Sue Walters, Fulton County; Phyllis Warsen, Cook County; and Trudy Yazujian, Tazewell County.

Sustained Excellence Award

The Sustained Excellence Award recognized 11 previous Outstanding State Award winners in 2020 for their continued dedication to the program for developing in their Master Gardener career with new responsibilities and initiatives.

Recipients: Doug Antonelli, Macon County; Tracy Burr, McLean County; Phillip Cray, Rock Island, Henry Stark, Mercer Counties; Mary Dickinson, Iroquois County; Carmen Holmes, Cook County; Kathleen McLaughlin, Peoria County, Kasi Mitchell, Vermilion County; Mary Anne Spinner, Cook County; Barb Wells, McLean County; Jane White, Piatt County; and Beth Williamson, Coles, Cumberland, Douglas, Moultrie and Shelby Counties.

Teamwork Award

The Teamwork Award recognized nine Master Gardener projects that have been impactful, innovative, and replicable statewide. The projects awarded in 2020 included working with youth on a Junior Master Gardener camp, creating welcome gardens at educational display garden sites, and mentoring newly trained volunteers.

  • Advocate BroMenn Meditation Garden in McLean County: Tracy Burr, Karl Hedding, Chris Kraft, Sharon O’Neall, Jim Schmidt.
  • Allerton Park and Retreat Center Welcome Garden in Piatt County: Karen Gentry, George Johnston, Anna Kaczmarek, Chris Keller, Kathy Lattz, Rosi McLeese, Judy Mitchell, Esther Nixon, Mare Payne, Kristin Pyatt, Mike Randall, Mary Kay Randall, Marita Romine, Jane Smith, Jane White, and Helen Wilding.
  • Cook South Soil Test Interpretation and Answer Team in Cook County: Josephine Boyle, Phyllis Carter, Sandy Cusak, Lorey Ford, Maureen Gaughan, Beverly Gehrt, Lise Gorajski, Carmen Holmes, Ed Kuchta, Tom Lyons, Kathy Madsen, Jackie Paine, Claudia Petrie, Ruth Schroete, Mary Segal, and Diane Ziarno.
  • Junior Master Gardener Camp in Monroe County: Karlene Feldker (alumnus), Ann Glosecki, Mike McClymont, Ellen Rey.
  • Master Gardener Mentoring Committee in Rock Island County: Linda Clewell, Deb Corso, Julia Martin, and Sharon Schulz.
  • Monarch Madness in Macon County: Sandy Barnett, Nancy Derby, Marge Evans, Paul Foster, Lana Hoey, Lori Jensen, Ruby Mathews, Deb McFarling, Lois Mumma, JC Nashland, Karen Parks, Jacque Wrigley, and Richard Zerfowski.
  • Nunda Garden in McHenry County: Roxanne Banet, Peggy Haugh, and Sue Scheckel.
  • Juvenile Detention Center Garden Project in Peoria County: May Bach, Julie Dantone, Ellen Lorenltz, Lynn Moon, Karen Pasko, Karl Stach, and Anthony Tiraboschi.
  • Welcome Entrance Garden Design Team in Champaign County: Bryan Adams, John Bergee, Tracy Edwards, Juanita Gammon, Mary Knight, Christina Nordholm, and Susie Smith.

Anyone interested in learning more about the Master Gardener program may reach out using the Become a Master Gardener page at extension.illinois.edu/mg.