Community

Coupeville gardener wins state honor

Don Lee - Submitted photo
Don Lee
— image credit: Submitted photo

Coupeville resident Don Lee has the greenest thumbs in all of Washington state.

Lee was named Master Gardener of the Year by the Master Gardeners Foundation of Washington State at its annual conference held at the Washington State University campus in Pullman.

Lee, the first Island County Master Gardener to receive the recognition, hopes his award will increase local awareness of and interest in the program.

“It was a surprise,” said Lee, a retired aerospace engineer who moved to Whidbey Island from California in 1988 and enrolled in the Master Gardener training program the following year.

Lee said his interest in the relationship between native plants and local water resources took seed as he worked in his home garden.

Through the Master Gardeners, he developed a strong interest in learning and teaching about the area’s native plants. For the past 17 years, Lee has taught classes such as landscaping with native plants and water-wise gardening. He’s also advised county road crews on plant identification while clearing brush along the highway.

Lee also holds an appointed position as chair of the Island County Water Resources Advisory Board. The board members work to implement the Watershed Management Plan, which focuses on clean water to protect aquifers and salmon in the Puget Sound region, among other water quality and quantity-related issues in Island County.

As president of the board of directors for the Meerkerk Rhododendron Gardens near Greenbank, Lee is also credited with leading efforts to form a local nonprofit organization and negotiating a transfer of control from the Seattle Rhododendron Society of the Meerkerk Rhododendron Gardens, according to a WSU press release announcing his award.

Today, Master Gardener volunteers, local garden club members, and the Whidbey Island Chapter of the Rhododendron Society of America maintain and improve the once-declining garden.

Keith Higman, Island County health services director, praised Lee for his effort to help address critical local water issues.

“Through his dedication and commitment of time, energy, and resources, Don Lee has been instrumental in protecting Island County’s precious groundwater resources through coalition-building, advocacy and community partnerships,” Higman said.

Island County Commissioner John Dean also acknowledged Lee’s exceptional contributions to the county as a Master Gardener volunteer.

“He is not only a Master Gardner, but a Master Citizen and Master Leader, who the Board of Island County Commissioners owes a huge debt of gratitude,” Dean said.

If Lee has one flaw, it’s his humbleness, said WSU Extension Natural Resources Program Director Don Meehan, who nominated Lee for the honor.

“We get his volunteer time sheets, and we know he’s under reporting,” Meehan said. “We know he is doing all this stuff because he is seen everywhere, teaching and guiding, pushing and prodding, cajoling and praising. He reports about 150 hours volunteer hours a year, be we estimate it’s more like 200 to 300 hours.”

The award included a handsome glass plaque, and $100 that he plans to return to the Master Gardeners.

“My intent is to give it back to the Master Gardeners one way or another,” he said.

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