Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board announces the 2016 Volunteer of the Year Awards!

The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board (MPRB) is pleased to recognize outstanding volunteers for their work in 2016. Last year, more than 9,000 people volunteered with the Minneapolis Park system.  Whether coaching, maintaining a garden, mentoring youth, assisting visitors at park facilities, or helping with special events, volunteers bring a wealth of talent and experience to the system. The Volunteer of the Year Awards recognize these outstanding efforts and signify the importance of every volunteer to the success of the MPRB.

Award recipients were honored during a ceremony and reception at the April 19, 2017, Board of Commissioners meeting.

Six individuals and three groups received the Remarkable Volunteer Service Award, and four individuals received the Youth Rising Star Award. All of these volunteers embody one or more of the themes set forth in the Park Board’s Comprehensive Plan including, Environmental Stewardship, Recreation that Inspires, and Vision and Leadership.

Each honoree and group received a framed certificate of their award, and a donation of $500 will be made to the park program where they volunteer. The funds will be used to enhance programming or purchase needed materials and supplies.

Staff members, Commissioners and the community were invited to nominate outstanding volunteers for these awards.

Thank you to all of our volunteers!

Remarkable Volunteer Service Award Recipients

Below are excerpts from submitted nominations.

Robert Tesch-Stevson

Robert has been a dedicated volunteer with Pearl Park sports for over a decade and has also served on the Pearl Improvement and Recreation Council (PIRC). Robert volunteered to coach his children’s football teams in the early 2000’s and continued coaching as they moved up in the age divisions.

In addition, Robert, a college decathlete, shared his passion for Track and Field by becoming involved with the Pearl Track team from its inaugural season in 2005 until the 2016 season. Robert has been more than a coach. He and his wife Mary coordinated the track program, including practice planning, instructing other coaches, and parent communications. Through his leadership, the program grew to over 80 participants on the Pearl team. Even so, the team was never full. Robert always welcomed any kid that wanted to join. As Robert’s own children moved on to high school and college, he continued to coach the Pearl team, eventually joining the coaching staff at Washburn High School, where he coaches many Pearl and MPRB track alumnae.

Over the years, Robert has volunteered thousands of hours for sports at Pearl Park and has positively impacted the lives of hundreds of kids along the way.

Tara Young

Tara has been a volunteer coach at Waite Park for Softball, Basketball and Soccer for over 4 years. Since she has become a volunteer coach, Waite went from having no girls softball teams to having teams in each age division: 10u, 12u, and 14u in 2016. Tara has been a coach each year and has molded new volunteer coaches who have returned each season to take on their own team. Tara’s volunteer time goes beyond Waite, into her community at Northeast Middle School where she coaches basketball too!

Tara is the glue that keeps the girls together and excited to play. She inspires the players to be good students and teammates, to make smart choices, to stay strong when the going gets tough, to learn from defeat, and many other life lessons. She shares these important values with girls at a critical time in their development. Tara has the ability to encourage the girls, when they were young and now becoming teens, to be the best they can be!

Tara has given thousands of hours of her time to various programs in the Northeast Minneapolis community, building relationships and friendships and leaving a positive impact on everyone she meets.

Marilyn Jones

Marilyn Jones has been volunteering at the Nokomis Naturescape Garden for the past eight years and for the last five, she has served as the co-lead and coordinator for the ‘Gardeneers’, the native plant advocate and educators group that tend the garden site.

Most Tuesday evening, spring through fall, you will find Marilyn in the garden leading and working alongside fellow ‘gardeneers’ tending and caring for the garden. In addition, May through August she leads monthly Wells Fargo volunteer sessions. Marilyn helps coordinate the Nokomis East Neighborhood Association’s ‘Grow Monarch Habitat Workshops’, and volunteers as part of the Naturescape ‘Gardeneers’ crew at the Minneapolis Monarch Festival. She serves as the co-chair for the native landscape advocacy organization Wild Ones Twin Cities and is a Master Water Steward and a Master Naturalist.

Marilyn’s dedication to the garden is tireless and beyond measure. For example: droughty periods necessitate watering the garden by hand; using two gallon jugs filled with water from Lake Nokomis, Marilyn will then drag, lug and schlepp water to  thirsty plants. To quote Marilyn’s Naturescape colleagues: “She is tireless, dedicated, fun, funny and hardworking. Marilyn is a natural leader, teacher, and a force of nature. We simply love her.”

Dave Schaenzer

Ten years ago Dave Schaenzer noticed that that many of the Lake of the Isles Garden Beds were in need of some serious TLC and took matters into his own hands…literally. One by one, Dave weeded all the garden beds on the west side of the lake. A few years later when the large native garden that surrounds the Peavey Fountain was in need of tending Dave again independently took on the task.

While Dave’s work didn’t go unnoticed, his identity remained a mystery for more than a year. He was known as the ‘secret gardener’ until neighborhood sleuths discovered him in 2012. Soon after, he established a Park Stewardship Agreement for the garden beds he had been covertly tending.

It’s not unusual for Dave to spend up to 20 hours a week weeding and hand pruning the thorny roses and scratchy junipers. Each fall he plants bulbs for early spring color, and he spreads more than 10 yards of wood mulch each season — a pile the size of a minivan! Dave’s example has inspired four other neighborhood groups. Now Lake of the Isles community members tend and care for all the garden beds that surround the lake, bringing a fourfold increase in volunteerism since Dave was “identified.”

Robin Russell

Robin Russell began tending the Sibley Triangle Garden in 2006 after the neighborhood garden club that had been caring for the garden disbanded. She took over as the sole garden caretaker and in 2009 became the official Park Steward for the site. As a professional gardener by trade her vocation is evident in the garden: what was once a basic triangle of grass is a charming garden full of imagination, character and beauty.

Robin’s life and gardening philosophy is to create beautiful gardens in neglected and abandoned public spaces, and Robin graciously applies this to her volunteer work.

After the loss of her home, Robin relocated many of the perennials from her personal garden to Sibley Triangle. When North Minneapolis homes were razed for urban renewal, Robin rescued and relocated suitable plants from those homes to the garden. Hence the garden’s unofficial name: Foreclosure Garden. The ‘Hope for Humanity’ rose, just one of many rescued plants, is representative of Robin’s strength, resiliency and commitment, and the spirit of the garden.

Although a small geographical space, the garden is a tremendous asset to the surrounding neighborhood. Robin has transformed Sibley Triangle into a charming community space, and the garden encourages city dwellers to slow down and enjoy nature’s beauty.

Dave Zappa

Dave Zappa has been a volunteer coach for the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board for over 20 years. Dedicated to providing quality youth sports opportunities for kids in North Minneapolis, Dave began his park volunteer career by coaching his daughters in volleyball and soccer at Folwell and Creekview Parks in the mid 1990s. Since then, he has coached multiple wrestling, football and baseball teams at these sites as well.

As a volunteer, Dave recognized that there were limited playing opportunities for some Minneapolis children. To increase their exposure to sports, Dave created and organized a Junior Olympic volleyball program, connected kids to soccer clubs, and advocated for children by encouraging others to volunteer and work with youth.

Most recently Dave has been coaching with the Minneapolis Police Activities League wrestling program, first wrestling program the Police Activities League has offered in its 26 year history. Dave started the program in 2016 with 13 wrestlers; this season boasts 23! Dave uses his experience and connections to the Patrick Henry High School wrestling program to secure practice time at the high school, and he recruits Patrick Henry high school athletes to help train the youth wrestlers. Dave also collects donations to supply wrestling shoes for his young athletes.

Dave is a strong role model who shows respect on and off the mat for officials, players, and opponents. He teaches young athletes leadership, dedication, commitment and perseverance. Those who know him say he’s a passionate person who will always give back to his community. He values all youth and young athletes that cross his path.

West Bank Parks

Left to right: Matt Langland, Zev Radziwill, Tom Foerster

Initially the primary focus for West Banks Parks was to work to implement a prairie restoration at Bluff Street Park. With the MPRB they raised more than $30,000 from the University of MN Good Neighbor Fund and the MN Department of Natural Resources Conservation Partners Legacy Program. In 2015, after 15 years of effort, the Bluff Street Park Bedrock Bluff Prairie Restoration project began. What was once a heavily industrialized site is on its way back to Bedrock Bluff Prairie.

Formerly known as the ’Bluff Street Park Task Force,’  the group voted in 2016 to rebrand, expand and change their name to ‘West Bank Parks.’ With this new name came a new goal: to improve ALL parks in the Cedar-Riverside Neighborhood. They have since added a variety of flowering species to the planters on both ends of the Greenway Bridge and have planted over 100 red daylilies near Bridge Number 9.

As park stewards they organize regular park cleanup work days in and around Bluff Street Park, the Dinkytown Greenway, and Bohemian Flats. With up to 10 volunteers at each session the team spends an average of 15-20 per month picking up trash, cleaning up the area and tending garden beds. The group also hosts annual Earth Day and Fall Clean-Up events.

Many years of efforts around cleanup and restoration by West Bank Parks have brought back nature, neighbors, and improved park experiences for the entire community. Through perseverance over 17 years, they demonstrate that when it comes to achieving park improvements they are running a marathon, not a sprint.

Cedar Isles Dean Neighborhood Association/Park Siding Park Gardeners Group

In front, left to right: Craig Westgate, Monica Smith, Tara Hanlon-Nevins, Sandi Larson, James Reid, Steve Goltry, Claire Ruebeck

Old hands, long-timers, or repeat offenders, all three monikers can be used to describe the Cedar Isles Dean Neighborhood Association (CIDNA) Gardeners Group. This group is entering their 21st year as Garden Stewards at Park Siding Park.

Back in the ‘good old days’ the group filled the garden with purchases from what their neighborhood budget allowed and with divisions from their home gardens. In 2012, necessary sewer maintenance work unearthed an opportunity: the chance to redesign the garden and install a new irrigation system. The garden redesign included the addition of earth-friendly, drought-tolerant native species with the purpose to attract pollinating insects, bees and butterflies, and provide wildlife habitat. The drip irrigation system was purchased by the neighborhood association. This new system has allowed the group to focus less on watering, thereby saving a precious natural resource. With this change, Saturday morning gardeners are able to concentrate more on planting, weeding, deadheading, sharing the communal gardening experience and building community.

Spring through fall a core group of fourteen volunteers meet monthly to maintain the six large garden beds at Park Siding. In addition, the group waters newly planted park trees, picks up trash, rakes, sweeps, and readies the park and gardens for the annual CIDNA Fall Festival. The group also knows how to share the joys of gardening and the ‘workload’; MPRB uses the garden as a site for corporate team building experiences and tiny stewards-in-training deadheading sessions.

Mill Ruins Crew

Left to right: Kathy Swenson (National Park Service), Justin Kleinman and son Hank, Kinnell Tackett, Gabriele Pillmann

Mill Ruins Crew volunteers work under a park stewardship agreement held by the National Park Service at Mill Ruins Park. Since 2014, the Crew has maintained a demonstration prairie of native grasses and forbs near the Stone Arch Bridge. Last year the Crew led 12 community volunteer events, which were attended by 66 volunteers contributing 194 hours of service. Crew Leaders also helped lead five corporate events at Mill Ruins, which brought an additional 85 volunteers contributing 228 hours of service.

The Mill Ruins Crew promotes the Minneapolis Park system, improves riverfront habitat, and encourages others to do the same. During volunteer events, Crew lead volunteers speak to participants about the milling history of Minneapolis and share how critical the park is to the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area. They explain how native plants benefit water quality and wildlife, and they diligently tackle invasive Birdsfoot Trefoil, Spotted Knapweed, and Crown Vetch.

Mill Ruins Park is located between B.F. Nelson Park with its informative pollinator garden, and the rain garden plantings at East River Flats. Its prairie is a stepping stone for bees, butterflies and birds that visit all three sites. In late summer, it is ablaze with color as monarchs and beneficial insects take advantage of this native pollinator pathway.

The area surrounding Mill Ruins Park houses hundreds of residents eager to make a positive impact on their neighborhood. By creating a fun and productive volunteer experience, the Crew provides a way for residents to connect to their community and the Minneapolis Park System.

Alison Thorson

Alison is a valued soccer coach at Lyndale Farmstead Park. She played on Lyndale Farmstead fundamental soccer teams as a child and is now giving back to the program she knows so well. She started coaching in the Spring of 2015 and has coached both Spring and Fall Level 1 soccer seasons for 5-6 year olds. Her duties include bringing equipment out to the field for practice and bringing it back in afterwards, coordinating the snack list, teaching soccer skills at practice, and supervising the games.

Last fall as an assistant coach, Alison was able to step up in the absence of the head coach, taking the lead on some of the hottest days of the season — she did a great job! Alison understands the children, knows how to keep their attention and helps them have fun while learning the game. She is a calm, steady and positive leader for her team. She is a reliable coach and a great role model for the younger children. We are fortunate at Lyndale Farmstead to have her as a coach!

Bjorn Holtey and John Osborn

Bjorn and John have both volunteered with Pershing Park’s RecPlus program for over 3 years. As former RecPlus participants and now high school students, Bjorn and John bring a different perspective and attitude to interacting with the children in the program. They engage the children in both active and quiet games, and the children listen intently to what they have to say and respect them both. Almost every day of the week one of the children asks if Bjorn or John will be there that day.

John and Bjorn are great leaders. They are dependable, engaged, resourceful, and smart volunteers, and the children admire them. Bjorn and John have been wonderful additions to the Pershing RecPlus team and we hope they continue to volunteer for years to come.