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Career volunteers

Peter Bostanescu has spent a career’s worth of time tending to the garden at the UF/IFAS Marion County Extension Office. He can’t recall exactly when he got his 30-year plaque for his service as a Master Gardener Volunteer.

Peter Bostanescu

The memory, at least for recent events, is not what it used to be. But he remembers life in a Nazi labor camp, of being liberated, and of

arriving in the United States in 1951, applying for a job on a Friday and starting it the following Monday.

Peter turns 99 this month. He was still regularly attending Master Gardener Volunteer meetings and watering and weeding until the pandemic made it too risky for him to continue. But he says he can still make the drive when it’s safe to resume.

UF/IFAS is able to help so many Floridians because so many Floridians help us. From Greatest Generation survivors such as Peter to our youngest 4-Hers, volunteers help us get science to the people.

National Volunteer Month reminds us to take time to appreciate all they give. Our volunteers identify bugs that homeowners bring into Extension offices. They lead 4-H clubs. They count horseshoe crabs. They help people file their tax returns.

They help us go to the people instead of waiting for the people to come to us. And they do it for years, even decades.

For more than 40 years—as long as there has been a Master Gardener Volunteer program—Eileen Hart (see page 56) has taken her talks on camellias, ferns, native plants and more to libraries and garden clubs throughout Hillsborough County. Clara Mullins works a table at a Tallahassee street festival for UF/IFAS Extension Leon County, greeting people who showed up for food and music and sending them off with brochures about pollinators.

Our volunteers include our employees. For example, it’s not Cassandra Key’s job at the Nature Coast Biological Station to help with horseshoe crab sampling or living shoreline plantings. But she’ll volunteer for hours doing so—and then work into the night at the station to finish the things she’s paid to do.

Without volunteers, our person-to-person outreach would be a much smaller portion of the 15 million annual contacts we have with Floridians. Nearly 400 Extension agents, as amazing as they are, simply are no match for 22 million residents.

Peter has put in an estimated 2,000 hours since 1999—the equivalent of a full year in a paid job. He has taken the gift of time—the long full life he was able to lead as a result of his liberation from a labor camp—and generously given some of it to us.

My thanks go to Peter and our thousands of other volunteers. Florida is a greener, healthier, more prosperous place because of them.