Chapter History

Wild Ones River City-Grand Rapids Area Chapter History

As presented by Amy Heilman, Past President, at the 10th Anniversary Celebration

September 18, 2017

Amy Heilman presenting our Chapter history.

Welcome one and all! We are honored to have Heather Holm and all of you here sharing in our chapter’s 10-year celebration.

First a little background on the unique organization which calls itself Wild Ones.

This non-profit, volunteer organization, was just a seed of an idea planted back in 1977, by 9 visionary people in WI. They saw a need to move away from the traditional chemical-laden, large lawn culture and instead—promote gardens that were diverse—composed of deep-rooted native plant species that provide habitat while reducing the need for constant water, fertilizer and chemicals.

That idea caught on… and slowly began to spread—first to other people in Wisconsin—and then on to the surrounding states.

A Wild Ones national headquarters was established to support the efforts of the various chapters that were forming and growing.

Interest in native plants grew and grew and grew! Today there are over 50 chapters in the country, comprised of regular folks like you and me who want our gardens to be not only lovely but functional too.

In Michigan, we are lucky enough to have 10 chapters with an 11th now being formed in the Newaygo area. The chapters serve as an educational resource for private individuals, schools, commercial property owners and community decision makers—with the goal of moving toward more sustainable landscapes.

How did our River City Chapter come to be you may wonder? Well, it started in 2007 when long-time resident Carol Phelps put an idea she had into action. I know many of you know Carol as she seems to be in several places at one time and is connected to many worthy environmental organizations. For several years she had been making the trek to Kalamazoo to attend the evening Wild Ones meetings there—they were the closest chapter to Grand Rapids.

Carol? being a woman who gets things done, decided to gather up a few local friends who also had an interest in native plants and with the blessings and help of Tom and Nancy Small, chapter Presidents of the Kalamazoo Wild Ones chapter, they worked through the necessary steps to form our local chapter with Carol leading as our intrepid President.

Now remember, ten years ago, the importance of native plants was not on most people’s radar. Many did not know what the term native plants, and even thought the Wild Ones was a tough biker group! But those first few years, we worked hard to generate interest by gathering knowledgeable monthly speakers to help educate us, organizing field trips to local preserves to learn about different ecosystems and what plant communities grew there. We developed a brochure, a newsletter and a website and later a Facebook page to help spread the information. We fostered partnerships with many other like-minded organizations and helped schools and other public groups develop native educational gardens. From tackling invasive species, to planting prairies to staffing informational tables at events in all kinds of weather, our members proved they were a force of nature!

Our passion for native plants was contagious and soon we were giving presentations and workshops, speaking to larger groups who wanted to know more about this whole idea of gardening for nature. As membership continued to grow, fund-raising work kicked into overdrive and to-date the chapter has awarded over $2000 to local schools to help them develop native learning gardens.

Eventually, we felt talking was not enough, we had to show the community how spectacular a native garden could be and how it could bring in pollinators—even in an urban environment—and so The Native Plant and Pollinator Garden was initiated at 920 Cherry St. in East Hills. Set in front of the historic Inner City Christian Federation Building, this garden is now in year five of development.

In this garden, there are close to 90 different native plant species growing in happy abundance and the space is a favored place for picnics, concerts and just enjoying some nature in the city. It is also the location where we now hold an annual open house where we provide native plants for citizens and discuss how they play a big role in land stewardship.

In these past 10 years, the members of Wild Ones River City Chapter have donated thousands of hours in volunteer service to our community. It is my belief that we have made an impact—have been agents of change—so to speak and have demonstrated just how much a single person can do for the world—in their own back yard.

To view a  short video created for our chapter by the Grand Valley University Film and Video class click the link below:

WORC Founding Officers

Carol Phelps – President
Rebecca Ling – Vice President
Nancy Hoovler – Treasurer
Sue Osgood – Secretary
Sue Bouchard – Membership

WORC Founding Members

Meribeth Bolt
Harriet Bromberg
Betsy Ford
Tammy Lundeen
Barb McGuirl
Miriam Nelsen
Sue and Ron Osgood
Patricia Pennell
Bonnie & Jerry Randall