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Rochester, NY: A Great Master Gardener & A Life Lived Well

  • Subject: [cg] Rochester, NY: A Great Master Gardener & A Life Lived Well
  • From: Adam36055@aol.com
  • Date: Mon, 22 Mar 2004 09:47:24 EST

A ray of sunlight for a March Monday.

Adam Honigman

Volunteer delights in the outdoors

Corydon Ireland
Staff writer

(March 22, 2004) â If Virginia âGinnyâ Wilterdink is an angel, she has the white hair for it.She also has heavenly amounts of energy, which she uses to promote the beauty, complexity and healing usefulness of nature.

Wilterdink, 81, is a master gardener and certified community forester. Among other things, she volunteers on a gardening help line sponsored by the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Monroe County.

Answering the phone one day last week, Wilterdink joked with a caller: âYouâve reached the master volunteer.â

One look at her calendar backs that up. The night before, she had been an usher at a performance by the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra.

Saturday she was penned in to help give wildlife lessons at GardenScape. This Tuesday includes an 8 a.m. stop at Durand-Eastman Park, where about a dozen community foresters will spend hours clearing debris from rare trees.

Wednesday, Wilterdink will be at the Seneca Park Zoo helping to identify trees. And Thursday, sheâll go to Highland Park to assess a woodland garden that was built in 1922, the same year she was born.

âOnce I can be outdoors, I am healthy,â said Wilterdink, a retired nurse and 50-year Penfield resident.

âSheâs just amazing,â said organic gardener Mary Jo Land, who owns MJ Creative Gardens in Irondequoit. âI donât ever remember attending a meeting she was not at.â

Wilterdink is also a library volunteer and belongs to the Penfield Friday Club, a book group.

âSheâs very energetic â I wish I could keep up with her,â said longtime friend Jean Benedict of Greece. âAnd she loves the environment. I treasure what she knows about nature.â

The two are members of the Burroughs Audubon Nature Club, where Wilterdink is in her second year as president.

âEverybody needs beauty,â said Wilterdink of her decade-plus of volunteer work in area parks, trails and gardens. âThis morning, I saw a robin in a tree. These things nourish me, and the older I get the more they nourish me.â

She got a first and lasting taste of the beauty of nature growing up in coastal Maine, on a 200-acre family plot in the town of Calais. Her father took her fishing and on hikes where heâd identify trees for her. During her girlhood, the family could drink from the pure natural hillside springs that today are marked with warning signs.

In Rochester, she is one of about 600 volunteers in Community Water Watch, a Monroe County program that tracks the health of area streams. Wilterdink, a widow with three sons, keeps an eye on Irondequoit Creek, which runs a few steps from her home.

âIâm a conservationist,â she said. âI believe in taking care of our planet.â

Widely traveled, Wilterdink has what she called âa long and strange history.â Sheâs been to Europe and Asia and lived at various times in San Francisco, Chicago and Washington, D.C.

Wilterdink got her registered nurse degree in Portland, Maine; served as an Army nurse in the Philippines during World War II with the Boston-based 314th General Hospital Unit; after the war earned a bachelorâs degree in sociology and psychology; and spent some time as a stewardess for United Airlines, taking to the skies in two-engine DC-3s, the workhorse plane of the war. (In those days, many stewardesses were nurses, or had to have similar training.)

After raising her sons, she recovered her passion for conservation gradually. It came into full bloom after her retirement as an intensive care nurse at Rochester General Hospital.

Along with other conservation roles, Wilterdink is steward of Linear Park, a kind of volunteer watchdog.

And itâs often dogs Wilterdink watches for, or dog owners who let their charges relieve themselves freely (and illegally) on public land. For her enforcement enthusiasm, she said, âpretty soon Iâm going to be called the witch of Linear Park.â

With so many years behind her, Wilterdink is shy about telling her age. âI donât want to get old,â she said. âI donât mind dying, but I donât want to get sick.â

To avoid that, just get outdoors, and learn what youâre looking at, said Wilterdink. âNature is a very healing thing to be working in.â

Being a volunteer helps, too, even for those still in mid-career and relatively young, she said. âThereâs a special need for people to be busy and working and doing useful things every day on this earth.â

By cultivating her interests, âmy (life) has gone uphill,â said Wilterdink. âAs long as I donât get too tired, life is wonderful.â

Some anti-aging strategies she recommends: eat thoughtfully, have passions (hers are gardening and studying nature), socialize with people younger than you are and exercise.

âBefore people skied, I skied,â starting at age 10, said Wilterdink, who still clears brush off Penfieldâs Honey Creek Trail, which she helped build. âEven my sons say: I hope I have your joints.â Still, Wilterdink is modest about her energy and accomplishments. âEvery woman my age I know is just as busy as I am,â she said. âIf you start thinking of how old you are, you start scaring yourself.â


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