Master Gardener Volunteers offer stories of growth and giving back

Taylor Arens | 

March 28, 2024


The Nebraska Extension Master Gardeners Volunteer (NE-EMGV) program has dedicated volunteers, some of whom have devoted more than half of their lives to Extension, actively contributing to  disseminating science-based resources and knowledge within communities.

Wilma Knipplemeyer exemplifies this commitment; she has been an Extension Master Gardener volunteer for 44 years. When I asked her how she feels about it, she said, "PROUD." This was followed by a few seconds of pause, emphasizing the word "proud" again and again. She believes that “to be a master gardener, you should love it,” and that is what she truly loves. 

Currently, 705 NE-EMGVs trained by Nebraska Extension are dispersed in 55 counties, sharing their expertise to assist Nebraskans with science-based training in the whole landscape system. NE-EMGVs volunteered 30,500 hours in 2023, with an estimated value of $885,00, and connected to 258,000 people across the state.  

“The program extends the outreach of the University of Nebraska–Lincoln by providing volunteers with science-based horticulture education, which prepares them to share their knowledge with Nebraskans,” said Terri James, Extension educator and NE-EMGV program coordinator. 

John and Penny Coriotto, a couple in the East Campus NE-EMGV program, have been Extension Master Gardener volunteers for almost two decades and share their passion for volunteering. "We can spend hours together doing something we both enjoy,” Penny expressed “This program demonstrates that you can pursue your passion with the people you love.”

Engaged in Extension in multiple capacities, John and Penny, along with their 4-H-involved grown children, share a mutual love for gardening. According to John, the program goes beyond teaching gardening skills; it imparts knowledge on plant reproduction, growth, root cuttings and more.

Participants in this program meet specific criteria, including 40 hours of educational training and 40 hours of volunteer service in their first year. Volunteers continue to learn with advanced training and continue to participate in community-based volunteer projects each active year. This program, an integral part of the Nebraska Extension since 1976, extends beyond education to fostering communities of plant enthusiasts.  

Sara Eliason, a 2021 NE-EMGV in Douglas County, emphasizes the sense of community: "The best part is about creating a community with other gardeners who are equally excited about it." She aims to remain involved for as long as possible, cherishing the friendships formed and the opportunity to give back to the community.

Knipplemeyer wishes to see the new generation pick this up and value the importance of horticulture, the environment, and volunteerism. "We, the elderly, teach youth in the hope they contribute when it is their time." 

Becca Evans, a recent addition to the NE-EMGV program, joined two years ago to overcome a plant failure in her garden. Beyond reviving her plants, Becca became involved in various community gardening groups and spearheaded a neighborhood replanting initiative, showcasing her newfound passion for horticulture and the environment.

James emphasizes the program's multifaceted nature. Volunteer hours involve diverse activities, from maintaining demonstration gardens to participating in research projects and community events.

Class topics cover a range of subjects, including integrated pest management, plant selection, landscape management and more. While focused on home gardeners and landscapes, participants from the green industry also find value in the content.

For those interested in becoming a Master Gardener, further information is available on the website: