Gardening is their passion and passing that passion along to others is their goal as University of Illinois Master Gardeners.
At this year's State Master Gardener conference held in Crystal Lake, more than 300 Master Gardeners came together in September to participate in three days of tours, workshops, educational sessions and friendly garden talk.
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In addition, awards are presented to those who excelled in their ability to pass along this passion for gardening. Four area residents were awarded Outstanding State Master Gardener certificates.
Among those statewide who were awarded this title are Mary McAlevy of Des Plaines, Bob Nicholson of Niles, Jill Fox of Hanover Park and Cheryl Besenjak of Hoffman Estates.
• McAlevy has been a Master Gardener since 1994. In addition to providing leadership and expertise to an Arlington Heights summer youth gardening program, she organizes gardening information tables that are often part of local fairs and other community activities. Here residents can get answers on the spot to their many gardening questions.
McAlevy established the Des Plaines St. McAlevy's Scout Gardens project. She is also a frequent volunteer at the Horticulture Answer Desk found at Friendship Park Conservatory in Mount Prospect, and McAlevy participates in the Master Gardener speaker's bureau.
• Nicholson has been a Master Gardener since 2004. Nicholson has been a radio show guest and provides workshops to area gardening clubs. Nicholson is also a mentor to many new Master Gardeners making them feel comfortable in their role as "garden problem solvers."
He also uses his talents providing numerous programs to groups through the speakers bureau and is a regular at many local garden center open houses, where he can be found at the University of Illinois Master Gardner Information Table.
• Fox has been a Master Gardener since 2007. Fox devotes a great deal of time and effort to projects at Little City Foundation in Palatine, working in its horticulture therapy program. Fox works with residents one-on-one and is able to make a difference in their lives. Fox also helps plan and volunteers at an Arlington Heights summer youth gardening program.
• Besenjak has been a Master Gardener since 2010. Besenjak's leadership skills have been utilized at The Chapel's Barrington campus, in its giving gardens. This is a community church garden that provides produce for the local food pantry. Besenjak incorporated the four-square method of gardening for The Chapel and, in addition to being on hand to help with the garden, she presented programs to the gardeners so they would have the information needed to maximize their efforts.
Besenjak also provided an organizing and seed-starting workshop for the Urban Connection Community Garden in Broadview/Maywood area. Besenjak uses Facebook to inform people about community gardens.