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.