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Master Gardeners Pick Verdicchio as Top Volunteer

Master Gardener Florence Gramignano (Westfield, Class of 2006) happily displays her Silver Service Award for 252 hours of community service in 2009. MG Bridget Mracek (Mountainside, seated) smiles in a show of support. In 2009, Gramignano created The Little Sprouts Garden for Children with Disabilities in Fanwood. She obtained donations of time, labor and materials from 30+ retail business establishments. On September 16, 2010 Gramignano was one of eight MG honorees who received the President’s Volunteer Silver Service Award, with a letter of congratulation signed by President Barack Obama. The awards, including 38 Bronze Service, two Gold Service and one President’s Call to Service Award, were presented at the UC Master Gardeners Annual Recognition Party on September 16 in Westfield. For more information on how to become a Master Gardener, call (908) 654-9854 or visit
(seated l-r) Nina Rosenstein (Westfield, with husband Simon Rosenstein, standing) shares a meal and a smile with Sarah Cooper (Union), Sarah’s daughter Rebekah (MG Class of 2011), Lorraine Mormile (Westfield), Esther Berman (Summit) and Doris Chamberlain (Westfield, standing). On September 16, these five ladies, together with nine other 2010 class members and eight more from other classes, were “pinned” and certified as new Master Gardeners, Class of 2010, at the UC Master Gardeners’ Annual Recognition Party in Westfield. To earn certification, they completed an eight-month course of study, passed a two-hour final exam, and volunteered at least 60 hours of community service. For more information on how to become a Master Gardener, call (908) 654-9854 or visit
Master Gardener Larry Verdicchio (Sterling, Class of 1990, seated in wheel chair) vocalizes some sincere words of thanks to an audience of 100+ Master Gardeners on September 16 in Westfield. Verdicchio is the 2010 recipient of the Wesley Philo Award for Volunteer Excellence. Presenting the award at the MGs’ Annual Recognition Party are Union County Agricultural Agent and MG Coordinator Madeline F. DiNardo (center), MG president Cindy Coppa (Elizabeth, left) and Agricultural Department Secretary Lynne Orlofsky (Rahway, right). Verdicchio was lauded as “one of the first MG Garden Helpliners.” Dinardo stated that “his expertise as a vegetable grower has been to our great benefit. Since he started at chair of our Community Sharing Garden in 2002, we have donated more than 14,000 pounds of fresh vegetables to local food banks.” DiNardo went on to say that “Larry works in the garden year round: starting seeds in the late winter, growing and caring for plants for our Annual Spring Fair and Plant Sale, planting the crops, and harvesting. Never resting, he plans next year’s garden during the winter. Larry,” said DiNardo, “is an excellent teacher and role model, whether he is showing new Master Gardener students how to start seeds or teaching a Scout troop how to plant tomatoes.” For more information on how to become a Master Gardener, call (908) 654-9854 or visit To answer your gardening questions, call the MG Garden Helpline at (908) 654-9852

Union County Master Gardener Larry Verdicchio is the 2010 recipient of the Wesley Philo Award for Volunteer Excellence. Verdicchio received the award at the UC Master Gardeners’ Annual Recognition (“Pin”) Party, held in Westfield on September 16.  Named in honor of the group’s first president, the award is presented annually to a volunteer “who best exemplifies excellence in volunteerism and dedication to the Master Gardeners of Union County through their actions, commitment and loyalty.” 

In presenting the award, Union County Agricultural Agent and MG Coordinator Madeline F. DiNardo told a group of more than 100 Master Gardeners that Verdicchio “has volunteered more than 6000 hours since he became a Master Gardener in 1990.  Everyone knows Larry,” said DiNardo.  “He’s been the Chairman of our Community Sharing Garden since it started in 2002.  Despite his handicap, he works the garden year-round, rain or shine, helping other garden volunteers and managing all major tasks, like planning, seed starting, planting and harvesting.” 

Verdicchio is, in fact, confined to a wheelchair.  He is also a Veteran.  As he navigates the Sharing Garden in his chair or busies himself in the greenhouse, he is, indeed, a familiar site to his Master Gardener colleagues who tend the Demonstration Gardens at RMGUC’s Watchung Reservation site in Mountainside.  Their hard work in the Sharing Garden has paid off.  Since 2002, the Sharing Garden has yielded more than 14,000 lbs. of fresh vegetables--hardy produce that is donated to Union County food banks and soup kitchens to help feed the hungry.

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DiNardo cited Verdicchio as “a true leader [who] inspires everyone he meets.  He teaches visiting children’s groups about seeds and vegetables, shares his love of vegetables with the public at our Annual Fair and Plant Sale, and every year teaches the new Master Gardener class his seed growing techniques.” 

Other deserving Master Gardeners also received awards at the “Pin” Party.  Among these were 24 MGs (15 from the Class of 2010) who earned their MG Certification pins.   Awards for volunteers with 500 hours of community service went to Marlene Boyd; Stacey Draper; Nancy Hayes, Bridget Mracek; Karen Mulvihill; and Carol Walczuk.  The Aurum Insigne(Gold Badge) Award for 1,000 volunteer hours went to Vincent DeGaetano; Krystafer Francaux; Charlotte Meling; Sandra Schroeder; and T.J. Karns.

Norma Cohen and Robert Maisano each garnered pins for 1,500 service hours, followed by Ben Greenberg and Toni Rinehart (2,000 hours); and Cindy Coppa (current MG president) and Deb Naha (2,500 hours).  In addition to Verdicchio at 6,000 hours, the awards for highest numbers of volunteer hours went to Joanne Krueger (7,000 hours) and Caryl Hannemann (8,000 hours). 

38 MGs earned Bronze Service Awards as part of President Obama’s Volunteer Service Awards program.  Silver Service Awards went to Krystafer Francaux, Florence Gramignano, Robert Maisano, Bridget Mracek, Sandra Schroeder, Fred Taylor, and T.J. Karns.  Gold Service Awards (500 hours or more in 2009) went to Cindy Coppa and Deb Naha. 

Larry Verdicchio took home the President’s Call To Service Award for volunteering 4,000 or more service hours over a lifetime to the Master Gardener Program.

The Rutgers Master Gardeners of Union County (RMGUC) are housed as part of the Rutgers Cooperative Extension (RCE) in the newly constructed County building at 300 North Avenue E, in Westfield, NJ 07090.  Their Demonstration Gardens are located on County-owned property in the Watchung Reservation (Mountainside).  In addition to providing food for the hungry, RMGUC donates the flowers from two cutting gardens to cancer patients at Overlook Hospital, the Wellness Community of Central Jersey, and the Susan G. Komen North Jersey Foundation.  For more information on how to become a Master Gardener, call 908-654-9854.  For answers to your gardening questions, call the MG Garden Helpline at 908-654-9852.    

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