The paths that bring volunteers to Adkins Arboretum are as varied as the plant species in its forest and meadows. For 2008 Volunteer of the Year Pat Bowell, the path was paved with pure serendipity. While helping a neighbor tidy up his yard, she unearthed a years-old black plastic pot containing an Adkins Arboretum plant label and a small, unplanted, yet still living plant. Her curiosity led her to visit the Arboretum to learn about native plants. She enrolled in the Queen Anne’s County Master Gardener program and eventually returned to the Arboretum as a volunteer. “It was a fortuitous event,” she says of that day. “I believe it was my fate to find that pot, with that tag, and that little surviving native plant.”
Bowell’s discovery proved fortuitous for the Arboretum as well. Since joining the volunteer corps in 2004, she has worked in nearly every volunteer capacity. Most weekends will find her behind the front desk, welcoming and orienting visitors, answering questions and serving as one of the Arboretum’s premier ambassadors. She volunteered to work weekends after learning that the small staff was covering the front desk seven days a week.
“I love meeting people who come to the Arboretum for a variety of reasons,” she says. “It gives me an opportunity to talk to them one-on-one, to find out what interests them, and to learn their reasons for visiting. I have an opportunity, in a couple of minutes, to make an impression that’s going to last.”
Bowell calls the Arboretum the “perfect place” that came at the “perfect time” in her life. She came to gardening later in life, after retiring from a major corporation, and says her time spent at the Arboretum is both stimulating and humbling. “I feel as though I get more from the Arboretum than I give,” she says. “Whenever I’m around the staff, I walk away with so much information. They’re wonderful about sharing what they know.”
Coordinator of Volunteer Programs Erica Weick says that Bowell “brings enormous talent to the volunteer program. Her dedication to the Arboretum and its mission is inspiring. It is a pleasure and a privilege to recognize her as Volunteer of the Year.” In addition to staffing the Visitor’s Center on weekends, Bowell is a volunteer docent, works in the native plant nursery, helps with major events, has led preschool and camp programs, is a member of the Arboretum Book Club and is active on the development and membership committees.
Executive Director Ellie Altman reflects that Bowell’s contributions to the Arboretum are unique in that “with equal enthusiasm, she handles clerical work, assists with hostessing tasks, and does the big thinking of strategic planning for fund raising and marketing. With her professional experience, she brings a big view to the Arboretum.”
As the Arboretum admires Bowell’s dedication and ability to move seamlessly among her volunteer roles, so does she admire the vision for the Arboretum’s future shared by its staff, Board and volunteers. “Everyone is driven by a common vision,” she says. “There is a singularity of purpose. Whatever your interest is, you will find a way to fulfill it at the Arboretum.” She relates her experience of working with children enrolled in summer camps as an example of the Arboretum’s mission—and its magic: “I like working with the smaller kids, those who have never touched frogs or played in the mud or who are afraid of water. By the end of the week, they’re dirty and kissing toads and running all over.”
“I do feel the Arboretum is a magical place,” she continues. “It changes and evolves right in front of your eyes and is always full of wonder and surprise. I look forward to that.” She discusses arriving early on weekends to walk the paths so she can tell visitors firsthand about what’s happening in the Arboretum woods. “There’s always something new. I have walked these paths a thousand times, and every time there is something different. I enjoy it here so much. I wouldn’t give it up for anything.”
Bowell was honored at a recognition luncheon attended by Arboretum volunteers, staff and Board on Jan. 29. She lives in Queenstown with her husband, Mike. In her free time, she is an avid gardener and is active in her community.
Adkins Arboretum is a 400-acre native garden and preserve at the headwaters of the Tuckahoe Creek in Caroline County. Open year round, the Arboretum offers educational programs for all ages about nature and gardening. Through its Campaign to Build a Green Legacy, the Arboretum will build a new LEED-certified Arboretum Center and entranceway to broaden educational offerings and research initiatives promoting best practices in conservation and land stewardship. For additional information about Arboretum programs, visit www.adkinsarboretum.org or call 410-634-2847, ext. 0.