URI Master Gardeners recognize top gardening volunteers

KINGSTON, R.I. – November 4, 2021 – The University of Rhode Island Master Gardener Program recognized the state’s top gardening volunteers at a ceremony in October.

Following nominations from among the state’s 700 Master Gardeners, awardees for the distinguished gardening educator, outstanding Master Gardener and rookie of the year were selected by the Master Gardener Recognition Committee. The annual awards have been presented for more than 20 years.

The 2021 Rosanne Sherry Distinguished Educator Award was presented to Dave Vissoe of South Kingstown, who became a Master Gardener in 2017 and earned Master Gardener Rookie of the Year honors that year through his work at the East Farm Demonstration Garden in Kingston. He later became project leader at the award-winning Kettle Pond Visitor’s Center Native Plant Garden in Charlestown.

“Volunteering in a native plant garden, Dave became consumed with native plants, taking thousands of photos, collecting seeds, and implementing winter sowing to create more plants,” said Nan Quinlan, recipient of the 2020 Distinguished Educator Award. “We need people like Dave, who amassed vast knowledge through constant study and began successfully educating teammates at Kettle Pond, the Rhode Island Wild Plant Society, and the public at senior centers, garden clubs and libraries. He has done a lot in a short time, and he is well deserving of this award.”

            The award is named for Rosanne Sherry, the former URI Master Gardener Program coordinator who died in 2019.

            The 2021 Outstanding Master Gardener Award winner is Kevin Rabbitt of Coventry, who has contributed more than 4,000 hours of his time to volunteer gardening service since becoming a Master Gardener in 2016. He is the leader of the Produce Donation Garden at the Roger Williams Park Community Garden in Providence, where more than 3,500 pounds of vegetables were grown for local food pantries in 2020.

            “Kevin has shown exceptional leadership before and during the pandemic, always the first at the project site and the last to leave,” said John Twomey, the 2020 Outstanding Master Gardener award winner. “He always has an answer to a question, and if a problem comes up, a solution is not far away. Even during COVID, Kevin was able to bring his project to a higher level and help more people than the year before.”

            The 2021 Master Gardener Rookie of the Year award recipient is Susanna Williams of Middletown, who enrolled in the Master Gardener class last winter and then completed more than 250 hours of volunteer gardening service. She helped redesign the garden at Smith Castle in North Kingstown, where she also led garden tours; she volunteered at the Norman Bird Sanctuary garden in Middletown; and she spent time conducting soil tests for Rhode Island gardeners.

            “She has a thirst to learn, as evidenced by the hours she put in during her intern year,” said Master Gardener Mary McNulty, who leads the soil testing program. “It would be nice if we could clone her. I definitely could use her on all my projects.”

For more information about the URI Master Gardener Program, visit web.uri.edu/mastergardener.