Volunteer Spotlight: Carolyn Savikas
Phipps is well-known for our beautiful gardens, seasonal flower shows, pioneering sustainability initiatives, informative educational programs and community outreach. None of our work, however, would be possible without the knowledge and dedication of our volunteers. In this series of profiles, we meet some of the people who give their time to make Phipps possible.
Many of Carolyn Savikas’ earliest memories revolve around gardens. Digging in her family’s vegetable plot. Going to the train station with her father to pick up flats of roses. Standing on the sidewalk in front of Phipps Conservatory on Palm Sunday, clutching her mother’s hand as they waited for doors to open on the long-awaited spring flower show. “We never missed it,” she says.
Naturally, the Conservatory has always been one of Carolyn’s favorite places. When people asked her what she wanted to do in her retirement, her answer was always the same: “I’m going to work at Phipps!”
Although she was mostly interested in horticulture, Carolyn started her time at Phipps as a docent in the newly-constructed Center for Sustainable Landscapes. After a few months guiding tours, she was ready—in her words—to start “digging in the dirt.” Carolyn now maintains the Tropical Forest Conservatory: sweeping pathways, gathering stray leaves, and sometimes even giving the Forest’s younger visitors a bit of a startle.
“They love to come running down the path away from their parents,” but stop when they come across her tidying the path. “They didn’t expect to see a person—not in the tropical forest! Listening to the reactions of little children, that’s a highlight for me.”
Carolyn normally commutes from her home in South Park for one day every week, although she visits more regularly. She also works on the “blackout crew” that clears away and constructs exhibits, and is consistently amazed by the Phipps staff’s artistry and expertise. “I truly learn something every time I work with them,” she says.
Working with such a talented group of people, however, is only Carolyn’s second-favorite thing about volunteering at Phipps. “There were some young landscape and architecture students here from Arizona,” she remembers. “They came to see the facilities, and they were in awe." These kinds of interactions are the most precious to her: witnessing visitors’ amazement at the plants and gratefulness for the opportunity to learn more about them.
“Every shift I have two or three people come up to me,” she says fondly. “They always say, ‘Thank you so much. Thanks for everything you do.'”
Select photos © Paul g. Wiegman