Memories from Wehr’s Longest Serving Volunteer

Mary Gease has been volunteering at Wehr for 44 years. Mary shared these memories and stories in interviews in 2014 and 2023.

Getting Started with Seed Collecting

My first volunteer job was seed collecting. Mariette Nowak (Nature Center director), Jane Appleyard, and Sally Jean Lohr taught me how to process seed. Most were sold as a grass/forb mix in Wehr’s store. Seed collecting in the Kenosha area was favored, because after collecting in the A.M., we looked forward to lunch at local restaurants. Identifying species while they were dormant was tricky. We learned many species each week ; it was an excellent teaching and learning experience.

Former director Harold Rock would often join in seed collecting. He as a stickler for only picking native plant seeds. Carol Howard (current staff member) had joined us for a seed collecting session for the first time. At lunch time, we listed the species we each picked and estimated the amounts. She piped up, “Oh, and I put in lots and lots of Queen Anne’s Lace” just to see Harold’s eyes bug out. Such a subtle jokester; we knew we were going to enjoy this new volunteer!

Rescuing Wildflowers with Bulldozer Alert

I also got involved with the Bulldozer Alert volunteers who when each Thursday to rescue wildflowers that were going to be destroyed during construction projects. We transplanted them to Wehr and I even got to take some to plant at my home in Caledonia. We all rode in a county van to dig wildflowers from prime woodlands as New Berlin Industrial Park was developed. transplanted. Mariette Nowak and Harold Rock (Stay on the paths!) coordinated the group. Karen Kerans drove the van on occasion, giving riders a thrill as we barreled down the steep drop on Grange. Sometimes we have didn’t have enough seating, and this was before seatbelts were mandatory because I do remember riding in the back, sitting on the spare tire. We had a lot of fun together!

Planting Waterlilies in Mallard Lake

Mariette ordered lotus and waterlily rootstock and she and I went out in an inflatable plastic raft. As we planted those rhizomes and moved to another spot, the danged things came floating back up behind us! Finally tied each to heavy metal nuts to keep them in place. To keep the lotus rootstock from being eaten by muskrats, it was recommended that wire hardware cloth pieces be placed over them. Unfortunately, the sharp end pieces of those wires pierced our craft and we had to paddle to the lake edge to avoid getting soaked. Fun memory!

Fun with Fridays Afield

Mariette always did such a great job with Fridays Afield tours of natural areas around southern Wisconsin. She often had knowledgeable hike leaders waiting for us at these sites. I was privileged to go with her to scout some places. One involved us getting “a little lost” as we ventured off the paths to see a tamarack grove. Another time, two scruff guys with a dog approached us and asked if we could call the police to the scene, as their dog had discovered something dead rolled up in a quilt! Turned out it was a dog, but it still gave us the willies!

On one field trip, as Mariette paused us to inform us about the area and plants, she put a hand in her pocket and pulled out a small, preserved bird specimen and casually remarked, “Hmmm, I guess I haven’t worn this jacket since spring birding hikes!” Fun memory.

Hiking with Phenology

Harold Rock knew all the plants and was famous for his “stay on the paths” manner. A strict scholar – received a lot of respect/fear.

Phenology group was hiking around Mallard Lake. A large cardboard box was left on the lake ice at the base of the golf clubhouse, steeply pitched lawn. Harold and I went to retrieve it, taking opposite sides, we pulled it off the ice, off the path, and kept going up the hill where we finally dropped it. Imagine my surprise when he said, “If you want to jump on the front, I’ll push us off”. As we rode it down the hill, Ziggy captured the scene with a photo – which I think may still be in the Wehr archives. Harold was probably in his mid to late 70’s then – an unexpected, fun guy.