Volunteer Spotlight: Ken Yonek
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.
For Phipps volunteer Ken Yonek, the Master Gardener program at Phipps was the opportunity that started it all. “I realized that if I volunteer, I can work for whoever I want to,” Ken says. “So, that whole volunteer world expanded. At the base of that tree really was the Phipps master gardener work.”
A pharmacy lab technician and chemist for 50 years, Ken decided after he retired that he was ready for a change. His science background and interest in horticulture prompted him to take part in the Master Gardener program, which is how he was introduced to the volunteer opportunities at Phipps in 2004. “I started with Claire in the outdoor gardens. They were weather dependent though and they soon realized I expected to be here every week,” he says with a laugh. “Then I transferred to Curt the indoor foreman.”
Ken does general garden maintenance like moving plants, pruning and planting, although he gets to interact with guests now and then. “If they are looking at something and I know there is something I can add about that plant that there is a high probability they don’t know, then I’ll do that,” he says. “It is easy to interact with people on a sensory level.” Ken’s passion for plants and volunteering has grown at Phipps and he now volunteers for six other organizations, including the Monongahela Area Revitalization Organization and the Center for Coal Field Justice. “My favorite part about volunteering is a tossup between the people you are working with and the tasks at hand,” he says. “I like going out into the communities and helping people with problems.”