Judy and Mike McIlwain are practically Lake Highlands natives, having moved to Dallas in 1981. Their two children no longer live in the area, so they’ve “adopted” the children and grandchildren who visit the Dallas Arboretum and tell them more about a garden they also adopted. They love being around the children who visit so often. The McIlWains enjoy the garden so much that they celebrated their 50th anniversary at a Cool Thursdays concert last year and together have volunteered more than 7,500 hours.
This fall they are taking on another volunteer role, co-chairing Autumn at the Arboretum, the garden’s fall festival, which runs from September 21st through October 31st. This year’s nostalgic theme is “It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown,” which includes many themed topiaries based on the Peanuts gang and Halloween.
Formerly a speech pathologist, Judy started volunteering at the Dallas Arboretum in spring 2005 after she retired. “I volunteered in several areas, but settled primarily on the information booth. I love greeting the brides, quinceañeras and babies as they come through the gate.” She also enjoys meeting the many foreign visitors who come from 90 countries around the world. “It's amazing how far-reaching the reputation of the Arboretum stretches!” Naturally, Judy leads the garden’s visitor service steering committee. In addition to volunteering at the Dallas Arboretum, she is active at her church in the knitting/crochet ministry. Judy also leads a book club, and she and her husband enjoy bridge. She added, “We were surprised to learn we will have close to 100,0000 pumpkins in the garden, and feel this festival will be and more popular than ever.”
After Mike retired from the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 2006, he also started volunteering. Judy calls him “a jack-of-all-trades.” Mike adds, “and master of none!” He works at the greenhouse, takes pictures of the plants in the trial gardens, works with the Volunteer Advisory Board (VAB) photo project at various times of the year, works at the membership table, and joins Judy in the information booth on Friday afternoons. He is the VAB chair elect. Mike enjoys the ever-changing beauty of the gardens and the personal association with the other volunteers, staff and Arboretum visitors. He also volunteers with ESL students at Richland College, and he and Judy are facilitators with an engaged couples program at church.
Both love to walk, especially to their local coffee house, White Rock Coffee, several times a week. They consider themselves fortunate to travel and to see many wonderful places all over the world, but they always return to volunteer at the Dallas Arboretum.
Although they both like volunteering at the Dallas Arboretum, neither considers themselves a big gardener. Mike says, “I think we like to ‘pretend’ that the Arboretum is our garden!
For more information about Autumn at the Arboretum, including volunteer opportunities, visit dallasarboretum.org.