Wild Ones   Shooting Star Donna VanBuecken  


By Carol Niendorf

In honor of Donna VanBuecken’s leadership of the Fox Valley Area Chapter and of her fifth anniversary as the organization’s executive director, our chapter presented a check for $1,000 to Wild Ones at the annual meeting in St Louis, Missouri.

Donna truly deserves recognition as a “shooting star.” As our chapter’s first president, she nurtured our organization much as she now nurtures seedling chapters. Those of us who were called together in the summer of 1994 by the Winnebago County, University of Wisconsin extension horticulturist to explore the possibility of starting a new wildflower interest group remember that it was Donna’s suggestion that we look into affiliating with an organization called Wild Ones. I’m not sure any of the rest of us had ever heard of this group.

At her instigation, we invited Curt and Judy Crane and Mandy Ploch of Milwaukee to tell us more about Wild Ones; that same night we voted to become the Fox Valley Area Chapter of Wild Ones. We elected officers and held our first official chapter meeting under Donna’s leadership in January, 1995. It was exciting to be part of the creation of this new group and, it was sometimes very challenging too. Through it all, Donna always maintained her upbeat, positive attitude just as she does in the national organization today.

Honoring Donna gave us an opportunity to find out a few things about her that we’ve never had a chance to ask. She recalls that her mother loved flowers and had a special affinity for wildflowers, even though she didn’t particularly differentiate between natives and non-natives. Donna shared this appreciation, and in 1986 when she and her husband, John, moved to their home in Appleton, Wisconsin, her interest soon came to the forefront.

There was a creek that would overflow into their backyard, leaving water standing in some areas. John had 80 dump truck loads of fill brought in, and Donna wanted to try planting some wildflowers. She knew she needed information that would not be easy to find. She learned about and joined the nearest chapter of Wild Ones, which at the time was Milwaukee North, about 100 miles away. She managed to attend a few meetings, yard tours, and a seed exchange or two. She also got acquainted with some other Appleton-area members. Donna says that it was these people and those she met at Milwaukee meetings who were most influential in her early learning experiences.

As busy as she is with national duties, Donna also participates in, and takes special pride in, our chapter’s many projects. These include the chapter handbook; organization of spring and fall native plant sales; the Natural Landscaping for Tomorrow grants program; the continuing education credits for teachers who attend our annual natural landscaping conference; the identification of receiving areas, such as schools and nature centers, to whom we donate a portion of all native plants from our plant rescues; and the prairie identification project.

She is very pleased that many of these ideas have been adopted by the national organization. Donna is particularly proud of all the members who make our chapter what it is. And what does she dream of for the national organization? Donna quickly answers: “30,000 members instead of 3,000!” 

Carol is a founding member and past president of the Fox Valley Area (WI) Chapter.

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