"Butterfly Girl," by artist James Hall III, is surrounded by native flowers, shrubs and trees in the Butterfly Garden at Nathanael Greene/Close Memorial Park. (Photo by Shannon Cay)

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A fundraiser that last year raised $47,000 for Friends of the Garden, which maintains and creates gardens at Nathanael Greene/Close Memorial Park, has been canceled because all three of the nonprofit's employees have resigned or are about to resign.

The 112-acre park at 2400 S. Scenic Ave. is the crown jewel of Springfield parks.

Heather Parker (Photo: City of Springfield)

Heather Parker, executive director of Friends of the Garden since May 2021, left this month. She spoke to me April 10 on a speaker phone call with Gage Rudick, program director of Friends of the Garden, who will soon leave.

“The statement we are going to share right now is that it is a difficult structure to work with,” Parker said.

I asked her to elaborate. Is the difficulty working with the Friends of the Garden board while simultaneously with the Springfield-Greene County Parks Board?

Parker said no, but she declined to elaborate on what the specific problem is.

“Butterfly Girl,” by artist James Hall III, is surrounded by native flowers, shrubs and trees in the Butterfly Garden at Nathanael Greene/Close Memorial Park. (Photo by Shannon Cay)

Parker is a city employee. She previously worked for the Springfield Fire Department as a fire and life safety educator and also worked two separate stints with the Springfield-Greene County Health Department.

She tells me she will take a new job with the city, but declined to tell me her new role.

Rudick is an employee of Friends of the Garden. The nonprofit's office is in the Springfield-Greene County Botanical Center, in the park.

This is one of the more recognizable play areas at Nathanael Greene/Close Memorial Park. The Springfield-Greene County Botanical Center is in the background. (Photo by Shannon Cay)

The center also is home to the MU Extension, Greene County Master Gardeners, Springfield-Greene County Park Board botanical staff and the Springfield Sister Cities Association, whose executive director, Lisa Bakerink, is a former executive director of Friends of the Garden.

There are going to be changes

Jan Wooten, a member of the Friends of the Garden board, also declined to specify the problem.

“There will be a period of time of some changes, I would imagine, and we're just not at liberty to say anything else at this time,” Wooten said.

This statue is just outside the front entrance of the Botanical Center at Nathanael Greene/Close Memorial Park. (Photo by Shannon Cay)

Carolyn Gerdes is one of the many people I reached out to for this story. She has been a substantial donor to Friends of the Garden and has been involved with the group since its inception in 2000.

“Since we used to meet in the old pig barn,” she tells me.

Much of the Nathanael Greene/Close Memorial Park is on land once owned by the Federal Bureau of Prisons. (The land initially was given to the federal government by the city as an incentive to build a prison here.) The inmates, back then, actually worked on a farm. The Medical Center for Federal Prisoners is to the north of the park.

I asked Gerdes if she knew why the three employees were leaving or had already left Friends of the Garden.

These two employees of Friends of the Garden have resigned. (Photo by Shannon Cay)

“Well, I'm not surprised to hear what you said,” she said. “Because someone intimated to me that there were some problems going on. But I kind of dropped out of everything myself. I used to be in the loop, but I'm not anymore.”

Don't forget the year's highlights

Parker noted that much good was accomplished by Friends of the Garden in the past year.

The nonprofit's largest fundraiser is Gardens Aglow. Is is held Fridays through Sundays from late November through Dec. 31. It raised $150,000 last year.

A view facing south at Nathanael Greene/Close Memorial Park: Lake Drummond is in the background. (Photo by Shannon Cay)

“There were a lot of good things that happened during our tenure,” Parker tells me. “I don't want that overshadowed by what is happening now. I think that's part of our story, too.”

At the park, there's a third entity, which exists in name only — “Springfield Botanical Gardens.”

Nathanael Greene/Close Memorial Park has 40 to 50 gardens, maintained mostly be volunteers.

In fact, the full name used by some for the park is “Springfield Botanical Gardens at Nathanael Greene/Close Memorial Park.”

Try putting that in a headline.

The various gardens include hostas, daylilies, Asiatic lilies, iris, peonies, roses, dwarf conifers, ornamental grasses, native plants and more.

June Butterfly festival canceled, too

The park also includes the Dr. Bill K. Roston Native Butterfly House (April-October.) As a result of the staff resignations, the June 8 Butterfly Festival at the park has been canceled, too. It is not a fundraiser. It is free and focuses on activities for children

Also in the park are the Gray-Campbell Farmstead (oldest cabin in Springfield) Mizumoto Japanese Stroll Garden and Lake Drummond.

Many runners, walkers and bikers know the park because the South Creek Greenway trail winds through it.

Jenny Fillmer Edwards, spokesperson for the Springfield-Greene County Park Board, would not comment on the resignations. It involves personnel issues, she said, and Friends of the Garden is a partner with the Park Board — not part of the Park Board.

“The park remains in open regular hours and in operation, including all maintenance, and staffing of the Botanical Center, the Mizumoto Gate, the Butterfly House, volunteer coordination and operation of all other events and education programs. Aside from the two events, the average park patron will not notice any changes at the park.”

That's true. If you don't count the fact that the gardens somehow seem lighter this year — by about $47,000.

Added in March, “What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace, Love, & Understanding?” by sculptor James Douglas Cox is outside the Botanical Center. (Photo by Shannon Cay)

This is Pokin Around column No. 174.

Steve Pokin

Steve Pokin writes the Pokin Around and The Answer Man columns for the Hauxeda. He also writes about criminal justice issues. He can be reached at spokin@hauxeda.com. His office line is 417-837-3661. More by Steve Pokin