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NSA Awards

The Nebraska Statewide Arboretum honored nine individuals at its annual awards event on November 4, 2022 at First Plymouth Congregational Church in Lincoln.

The President’s Citation
The President's Citation was awarded to Karma Larsen, of Lincoln, for her 20+ years of service as the communications and events coordinator for NSA. This award is presented to an individual who has made an outstanding contribution to the mission of NSA.

“As NSA’s communications coordinator, Karma was the steady, informative and friendly voice of NSA,” said NSA Executive Director Hanna Pinneo. “Her love of gardening and all things natural clearly shone through in all her work, communicating a true love for Nebraska and all the beautiful trees, plants and wildlife it has to offer.”

The Affiliate Excellence Award
The Affiliate Excellence Award was presented to Central Community College's (CCC) Hastings Campus. Aaron Thiessen, head groundskeeper at CCC Hastings accepted the award on behalf of the college. Thiessen has served as co-chair of CCC’s Tree Campus Higher Education Committee and has worked closely with faculty to conduct an extensive tree inventory using drone technology to collect pertinent data on species, size, health and location of more than 1,000 trees on the Hastings campus. He has also partnered with faculty to integrate a service-learning component into curriculum that enables students to actively participate and invest in the beautification of their campus while also gaining hands-on experience in urban forestry. The Affiliate Excellence Award recognizes excellence in plant collection diversity, maintenance practices and community engagement.

The Jim Kluck Honor Award
The Jim Kluck Honor Award was presented to Mike Vrtiska, of Cook, for his work as the groundskeeper at Nemaha County Hospital in Auburn, an NSA affiliate site. Vrtiska, a certified arborist, was also recognized for his tree-planting efforts on the 160-acre property he owns near Cook. In memory of Jim Kluck, who was a longtime NSA supporter, board member and curator, this award recognizes individuals or organizations that have made a significant contribution to NSA or to an affiliate site of NSA.

The Blazing Star Award
The Blazing Star Award was presented to Kay Kottas, of Western, president and owner of Prairie Legacy Inc., a botanical consulting service and provider of retail plants and seed, and owner of Witt’s End Homestead LLC, a nursery that raises local ecotype native seed and plants. This award recognizes an individual or organization that has made a significant contribution toward advancing the horticultural use of native plants or the restoration of native plant communities in Nebraska.

The Volunteer Award
The Volunteer Award was presented to Dan Kostka, of Nebraska City, for his many years of volunteer service at the Lewis and Clark Visitor Center in Nebraska City, where he serves as a nature guide, assists staff and visitors with tree and plant identification, plants trees and assists with controlled burns and other activities.

The Community Landscape Award
The Community Landscape Award was presented to Gus Von Roenn, founder and executive director of Omaha Permaculture, a non-profit that fosters community through sustainable land stewardship. Von Roenn founded Omaha Permaculture in 2013 with the mission to revitalize dilapidated vacant properties throughout Omaha, utilizing healthy ecosystems and urban agriculture to elevate the utility and value of these lots for the surrounding neighborhoods and the city overall. The Community Landscape Award recognizes an individual or individuals annually who have significantly improved the green infrastructure in a Nebraska community.

The Johnny Appleseed Award
Monte and Lincoln Williams, of Clarks, were the recipients of this year’s Johnny Appleseed Award. Together the father-son team have planted 92,925 trees, beginning in 1975, when Monte purchased 1,400 seedlings from the Central Platte NRD to plant as a windbreak for livestock protection. Monte’s son, Lincoln, has followed in his father’s footsteps. In 1993 Lincoln purchased 800 acres from his father and grandfather and followed their conservation efforts by adding 116 acres toward habitat improvement. Together, Monte and Lincoln have planted an average of 1,900 seedlings every year for decades, and in doing so, have seen a marked improvement in the habitat for wildlife on their properties.

The Educator Award
Mary Jane Frogge, of Lincoln, was named this year’s recipient of the Educator Award for her 30+ years of work with the Nebraska Extension. As a Nebraska Extension horticulture associate, Frogge oversees the Lancaster County Extension Master Gardener program, is a leader on the Nebraska Extension pollinator team that recently developed the Nebraska Pollinator Habitat Certification program and leads the Lancaster County 4-H horticulture club.

New Landscape Stewardship Affiliates
In addition to the awards, three new affiliate landscape stewardship sites were acknowledge at the event: Schramm Education Center in Gretna and Bennington Heritage Arboretum and the Doug Nelson Youth Complex Arboretum, both in Bennington.