Recognizing Mercer Volunteers

Mercer installed engraved pavers honoring five outstanding volunteers during a special Volunteer Picnic Wednesday, Oct. 31. Together, these volunteers contributed more than 30,000 hours in their time at Mercer, participating in tasks such as cleaning and planting seeds, growing and cultivating plants, organizing the library, tracking volunteer hours, and organizing fundraisers for The Mercer Society.

Read more below to learn more about these top volunteers.

Anne Strommer

Topping the list with more than 7,000 lifetime hours is Anne Strommer. Anne started volunteering at Mercer more than 20 years ago when her husband Matt, also a current Mercer volunteer, suggested she help at the botanic library. With her background as a librarian, the position was a perfect fit.

With the Dewey Decimal System ingrained in her memory from years of use, Anne reorganized the botanic library based on systems used in libraries throughout the country, including the Library of Congress.
After her talents were noticed, Strommer transitioned to managing the volunteer database, entering applications and tracking thousands of hours for other volunteers. She continues to enter volunteer time with a keen eye for accuracy and precision down to the minute!

“It’s important to be accurate with volunteer hours, so everyone will get the recognition they deserve at the annual spring Volunteer Awards Luncheon,” says Strommer. At the luncheon held this past May, Anne was honored again in the 500+ hour category for 2017.
“Anne is family,” says volunteer coordinator Jamie Hartwell. “She’s well recognized among staff and other volunteers as a Mercer institution!”

Ceil Dow

If you’re ever looking for Ceil Dow, your best bet is to search Mercer’s Tropical Garden, the north side ginger greenhouse, a ginger sale, or her own backyard. As a cultivator, groomer, nurturer, and seller of gingers, Ceil is Mercer’s tropical and ginger expert, with over 6,000 total volunteer hours.

Ceil began volunteering at Mercer 30 years ago as a pond cleaner. However, once she discovered gingers, Ceil learned everything she could about the plant and eventually transitioned into her new role as ginger expert.

“I was at the Houston Bulb Mart where a volunteer said that I looked like a ginger person. So, I took a pamphlet and bought my first Hydicium, commonly known as butterfly ginger,” she says.

With more than 100 varieties of gingers in her backyard, Ceil often shares plants with Mercer’s volunteers and staff. She’s excited to introduce edible ginger varieties at Mercer this next spring.

When the weather starts to cool, most of Ceil’s gingers will go dormant, resting and storing energy to bloom again in the spring and summer.

“I consider gingers my friends,” she says. “The Curcuma pink giant is one of my top five bffs.”

Kitt Burnsides

It was easy for Kitt to amass more than 1,037 recorded hours in 2017, as hundreds of signs, sales tickets, equipment, and supplies were lost when The Mercer Society office flooded last August.

“After the initial shock wore off, I realized that most plant information signs would have to be replaced, which would include printing and laminating each one. My home color printer got quite the workout,” she says. “Not only were all the signs recreated, but new ones were made as well. I spent most of my waking moments making signs!”
With Kitt’s leadership and determination, Mercer hosted a scaled-down March Mart, much to the relief and amazement of longtime March Mart attendees. Although quietly open for a few weeks prior to the plant sale, Mercer Botanic Gardens was officially reopened to the public during March Mart.

As assistant secretary of The Mercer Society and March Mart chair for the third consecutive year, Kitt’s volunteerism has been strong and steady, as reflected in her 6,000 total hours of volunteer service. Her daughter Maggie also volunteers at Mercer and her son Gregg is a Mercer staff member.

Charlyn Brown

Charlyn Brown has a mission to bring Mercer to the forefront of free activities available for the community.
“So many people don’t know about Mercer,” she says. “They live within five miles and don’t even know it’s here. I’m adamant about educating the public to know what a wonderful place this is and what a great opportunity they have to go out and enjoy it for free.”

After completing her Master Gardener volunteer hour requirement, Charlyn became a permanent fixture at Mercer. In the past 10 years with 5,000 hours under her belt, she’s worked mostly in the greenhouses with shade plants, such as begonias and bromeliads as her favorites.

Charlyn is one of The Mercer Society’s most involved volunteers. Serving as a current board member, she has been the shade plant lead for the past six years and has chaired the Garden Gala four times along with many other activities.

During peak events, Brown is at Mercer about 30 hours per week. But outside of the garden walls, she has another interest. For the past six years, she’s provided pet therapy at local assisted living homes with her toy poodle Phoebe, a certified therapy dog with Therapy Pet Pals of Texas.

“My pets and plants are my hobbies,” she says. “I’m just so happy I’m able to give back while doing something I love.”

Mary Ellen

After retiring from Randall’s grocery chain at age 65, Mary Ellen Brown needed a hobby. With encouragement from her oldest daughter, she decided to give Mercer a try.

Now 15 years and more than 5,000 volunteer hours later, Brown views Mercer as her second home. She’s even gained an interest in gardening, winning three Yard of the Month honors. But, she’ll be quick to tell you that in the beginning, she was a total novice.

“I’ll never forget my first volunteer day at Mercer,” she said. “Suzzanne Chapman took me out to the gardens to weed. Well, I didn’t know a weed from a flower, and she noticed right away.”

In that instant, Mary Ellen’s weeding career ended and her work in the potting shed began.

As it turns out, the move was a perfect fit. “Jeff Heilers was the greenhouse manager at the time,” she says. “He was a good teacher but, most of all, he was patient. I immediately felt welcome.”

Mary Ellen’s plant knowledge has grown considerably since that first day at Mercer. But what she treasures most are the friends she made along the way.

“We know each other’s stories. We share our problems, sorrows, joys, and solutions,” Brown adds. “And, they keep me out of trouble.”