The 2023 NSA Awards Reception was held on November 3, 2023 at First Plymouth Church in Lincoln.
The following award recipients were honored:
President's Citation: Emily Levine
Emily Levine, of Lincoln, recently retired from UNL after more than 35 years of service, during which time she guided people toward understanding and caring for the natural beauty of East Campus. Starting in landscape services, Emily helped to shape the landscape we all benefit from and enjoy now on campus. From tree planting to pest management to teaching people about the living things they were investigating, Emily helped thousands of people connect with the natural world over the span of her career.
In her most recent role at UNL, Emily worked with the Arboretum and Forest Service staff to ensure the history of Maxwell Arboretum was well documented for future generations.
The President’s Citation recognizes outstanding contributions toward the NSA mission. The award is nominated by and given at the discretion of the president of the NSA Executive Board.
Johnny Appleseed Award: Dean Cole and Duane Johnson
The Johnny Appleseed Award recognizes an individual or individuals who embody the generous spirit of Johnny Appleseed through a sustained personal involvement in tree-planting in Nebraska.
Dean Cole, of Lincoln, has worked tirelessly to improve the green infrastructure of his hometown of Blue Springs. Thanks to his efforts, more than 70 hardwood trees now grace Chief Standing Bear Trail, Feit Memorial Park, Blue Springs City Park and the softball complex. He has also written numerous grants to support tree planting in Blue Springs and has worked closely with the City Council and with Blue Springs and Wymore cemeteries to develop community tree planting plans.
In his own Lincoln neighborhood, Dean has planted and continues to care for a dozen street trees. In addition, he has logged more than 700 volunteer hours with the Nebraska Master Naturalist Program, assisting with tree planting and tree care at parks and natural areas around the state.
As a young man, Duane Johnson, of Johnstown, became the steward of the Sandhills land in rural Brown County that was to be his home for nearly fifty years. Over that time period, he transformed a homestead that was nearly devoid of trees into a beautiful landscape that is now graced with a canopy of shade and fruit trees.
Duane planted and nurtured groves and shelter belts in the cattle lots and pastures, which, over years of effort, resulted in more than 15,000 trees. His annual tree planting became a family affair, with his wife, their four children and other relatives joining to help bring his vision to fruition. Duane continued to plant trees even after his physical strength declined. Friends and family recall how he would sometimes crawl from spot to spot, determined to get one more tree in the ground..
Affiliate Excellence Award: Bennington Heritage Arboretum and Doug Nelson Youth Complex Arboretum, John Bohrer, curator
The Affiliate Excellence Award recognizes excellence in plant collection diversity, maintenance practices and community engagement. John Bohrer, of Bennington, has long been a strong advocate for community forestry, beginning with his appointment as City Forester for Bennington in 2013 and continuing with his work as director of the Bennington Public Works Department and City Arborist. Under his leadership as chair of the Bennington Tree Board, John has partnered with numerous entities to obtain several tree-planting grants for the city. As a result of his tireless efforts, the City of Bennington has been awarded 14 grants totaling $35,000 and 153 trees have been planted around the city.
Most recently, John pursued Nebraska Statewide Arboretum affiliate site status for two green spaces in Bennington: the Heritage Arboretum and The Doug Nelson Youth Complex Arboretum, both of which became NSA affiliate sites in 2022. The once-neglected areas, which together comprise approximately four acres, have been transformed into recreational spaces featuring 25 different species of trees and numerous shrubs, as well as a previously existing iris garden containing more than 70 varieties of the Sass Iris, which was developed in Bennington during the 1920s.
Jim Kluck Honor Award: Justin Evertson
Justin Evertson, of Waverly, has been with the Nebraska Statewide Arboretum for 33 years, most recently working as the Green Infrastructure Coordinator. During his time with NSA and the Nebraska Forest Service, Justin has been involved with hundreds of NSA affiliate sites and community planting projects.
Justin also spends more than 400 hours a year working on parks, schools and other public landscapes in Waverly and has created an amazing arboretum in the local park. His goals have been the same from the beginning: to reflect his professional tree and landscape work within his own hometown, to help make Waverly a greener place, to learn by doing and to give back to his community.
This award was named in honor of Jim Kluck, who was a long-time NSA supporter, past board member, curator and Nebraska nurseryman who loved helping people and communities improve their landscapes. In memory of him, this award recognizes individuals or organizations that have made a significant contribution to the Nebraska Statewide Arboretum organization or to an affiliate site of NSA.
Educator Award: Scott Evans
The Educator Award recognizes educators who have made an outstanding contribution toward advancing the knowledge and appreciation of plants among their students.
Nebraska Extension Associate and Horticulture Program Coordinator Scott Evans, of Omaha, was described by his nominator as “the consummate educator.” Scott trains and manages a huge volunteer body of 270 Master Gardeners in Douglas-Sarpy Counties. He also generously shares his extensive horticultural knowledge through prolific social media posts and in articles, as well as through appearances on the NET Public Media series Backyard Farmer.
Scott is an ISA certified arborist, a member of the Bellevue Tree Board, a Nebraska Certified Pollinator Habitat team member, a board member for the Omaha African Violet & Gesneriad Society and an inaugural UNL staff senator.
Blazing Star Award: Yvonne Meyer
The Blazing Star 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. Yvonne Meyer, of Lincoln, is a teacher at Lincoln High School and an avid naturalist and gardener. She transformed her yard into a "pocket prairie" to support a diversity of pollinators and wildlife with landscaping features that include a rain garden and pond, extensive flower beds blooming with native perennials and multiple trees, all of which serve as mini eco-spaces to support the wildlife with whom she shares her space.
Yvonne is an educator to her fellow colleagues and to virtually everyone who crosses her path, both online and in person. Her Facebook page has become a teaching guide for prairie restoration and pollinator gardening, documenting the growth of the pocket prairie she has planted alongside her street to beautify and educate her neighborhood. Yvonne also regularly invites others to visit her yard to share gardening and landscaping tips, and she generously shares clippings and seedlings from her native plants with anyone who is interested in starting their own pollinator garden.
Volunteer Award: Lois Luthy
NSA’s Volunteer Award recognizes an individual who has made a sustained volunteer contribution to an affiliate site of the Nebraska Statewide Arboretum. Lois Luthy, of Humboldt, dedicates her time and energy to the Southeast Nebraska Cancer Memorial Garden year-round. During the winter, she and her husband, Reece, propagate thousands of plants from clippings taken from flowers in the garden -- watering, fertilizing and nurturing them until it’s time to transplant them into the garden in May. She also creates 80 beautiful hanging pots to decorate the light poles around town – and she coordinates a schedule of youth volunteers to water the planters all summer long.
From mowing lawns to fundraising, ordering supplies, cooking for events, decorating for the holidays, serving as Garden Club president and even running the Richardson County Fair float, Lois simply does what needs to be done – usually without even being asked.
Community Landscape Award: Heritage Park, Battle Creek and Community Ever Green House, Gering
The Community Landscape Award recognizes projects that significantly improved the green infrastructure in a community.
Heritage Park, Battle Creek
The Heritage Park Revitalization Committee used a $10,000 NSA Greener Towns grant and matching funding to create an educational, historic and recreational space that integrates native plants into the landscape to help tell the town’s unique settler and Native American history as it celebrated its 150th anniversary this past August.
Dozens of volunteers labored over the winter, spring and early summer to prepare the soil and then plant hundreds of native plants, trees and shrubs that accentuate the historical elements of the space, which include a sculpture of Pawnee Chief Petalesharo, the Heritage Museum and a Pawnee teepee. Plants such as milkweed, yarrow, purple coneflower, white sage, serviceberry and wild plum were purposefully and thoughtfully selected because of their medicinal and culinary importance to the Pawnee and early settlers of the area.
Community Ever Green House, Gering
In addition to its raised vegetable beds on the north side of the property, which yield approximately 3,000 pounds of produce annually that is donated to people in need through the Growing Together Nebraska program, Community Ever Green House also recently completed a three-part landscape design with funding from NSA Waterwise and Greener Towns grants. The landscape design features a bioswale, which collects runoff from the adjacent greenhouse; a series of raised flower beds featuring native and regionally adapted plant species; and a seeded wildflower patch – all of which complement its 100% passive solar heated greenhouse.
Ron Yoder Service Award: Dr. Ron Yoder
The Ron Yoder Service Award was established this year to honor an individual who has generously committed time, talents and effort in support of Nebraska Statewide Arboretum’s mission. Dr. Ron Yoder, who retired in September from his role as senior associate vice chancellor for the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s (UNL) Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources (IANR), is the inaugural recipient of this award that has been established in his name. He joined UNL in 2004 as the department head of Biological Systems Engineering; in 2011 he was named the associate vice chancellor for IANR. Dr. Yoder served as an “ex officio” member of the NSA board of directors and was a longtime champion of NSA’s work and mission.