Nurturing friendships

Voluteers work side by side making the arboretum and their friendships grow.

DALLAS -- They're Tuesday people, this hearty group of volunteers, many of them in their 70s and 80s, who have built the arboretum here.

The father of the project, Delbert Hunter celebrated his 90th birthday Sept. 5 and a group of about 50 well-wishers shared memories and cake with him Thursday evening.

Hunter dreamed of an arboretum in Dallas back in the days when he worked for the city parks department. The project didn't really get off the ground though until 1983 when Vi Sobolik took charge. Sobolik was curator until she died in 1997.

The arboretum and botanical garden have one of the largest collections of Oregon native plants and provide educational opportunities for anyone who wants to learn to recognize, plant and take care of our native species.

The present 3.5 acres is currently being expanded to include the old city ball field adjacent to the present site. When the work is completed, the arboretum will be twice the size it is now.

The plan for the new area will include mounds representing the different areas of the state from the Cascades to the Coast to the desert areas of Eastern Oregon. And the Friends of the Delbert Hunter Arboretum will do all the work.

Working outside is what Wilma Rogers has always liked best. The spry 77-year-old has been coming out here on Tuesdays for about 15 years.

"I don't like working in the kitchen but I love working in the dirt," Rogers said. "I like pruning, hauling brush, clearing, tending the plants, putting new surfaces on the walkways. Everyone works on their own, there's no boss.

"There's usually about 12 to 15 people out here every week but if someone doesn't show up, we don't think anything about it. We work in the winter too, when it's raining and dripping -- we still find things to do. If you're a person who's always done this, this is just like home out here."

Jo Ann Crisp and Edmee Pankratz are relative newcomers to these woods. They've both been pulling weeds and clearing brush for about two years. Crisp is a bit younger than some. She still holds down a full time job at SABLE House. Working in this garden is a way to relieve stress. "This is the real part of my life. It's a big change from the other part of my life. This work is uplifting -- you can see clearing what you've accomplished. I don't have a yard at home now because I live in an apartment. Working here gives me a sense of community, it's refreshing, it makes me feel useful and it's good exercise," Crisp said.

Pankratz likes the work because she's able to use her own judgment to figure out how an area will look -- the curve and steepness of the paths in the Eastern Oregon mound for instance. "I like to make things clean so when you go home, you feel like you've done something," Pankratz said.

Adele Zandol's 17 years building the arboretum have been an extension of her early childhood years in Fir Grove. "There were six of us and we always wanted to see who found the first wildflower, the first spring beauty, the first Lady's Slipper. We spent lots of time out in the woods when we were younger."

For Mel Chase, coming to work at the arboretum started out as a desire to learn about the native plants of Oregon. "I trained and worked as a forester in the Midwest before coming here and I never really learned the names of some of the plants I worked with all the time."

Chase said he's not really retired now because he is working a 70-acre piece of land north of here. "I'm not really retired, I just don't make money any more." With his background, Chase just naturally fits into the role of planning director for the arboretum's expansion project.

The arboretum is always looking for new volunteers to help maintain the present gardens and begin working on the new project. John Hansen, who serves as president of the friends group, can be reached at dhamor@open.erg or by calling 623-7359. Or just show up on Tuesdays between 9 a.m. and noon and meet the Tuesday people at the arboretum next to Dallas City Park.

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