2016 Volunteers of the Year


Volunteers of the Year, Larry and Rita Bashaw

Larry and Rita Bashaw will proudly tell you: When Meijer Gardens calls for help, they can be there in 30 minutes.

Both 81, the Grand Rapids couple pitch in on all kinds of jobs, from helping at concerts to staffing the children’s tram, from greeting the daily parade of school buses to collecting the tickets.

Thursday, Oct. 27, they were honored as the 2016 Volunteers of the Year at the annual Connie Snell Volunteer Appreciation Dinner. Usually bestowed on a single person, the award has only been given to four other couples since the gardens opened in 1995.


The Bashaws accept their Volunteer of the Year Award


Larry and Rita call Meijer Gardens their second home. In fact, they’ve logged more than 4,000 hours each since donning their volunteer polo shirts in 2010.

Larry, a retired accountant, works the monitor desk, taking tickets two mornings a week. A big, friendly smile is essential, he said, his blue eyes twinkling. “I am the first face visitors see after (the cashier) takes their money and it’s important we give the right impression.”

Children get special attention, particularly those celebrating a birthday like Conrad who shared his prized treat, a Thomas the Tank Engine lollipop. Larry still has the memento. “I”m waiting for Conrad to come back!” he says merrily.

Rita, petite and lively, needs to be nimble as the coordinator for the Bus Buddies program. She trains and schedules the more than 20 volunteers who greet students and teachers as their yellow buses rumble up to the front door. They explain the rules to excited children, store mounds of lunch bags and point groups toward their tour leaders. Head Start children, many who have never seen the gardens before, have a special place in her heart.

Rita knows a thing or two about children. The mother of seven operated a licensed day care center for 30 years before retiring. “I love being with the children,” she said “I just love being with all the people who come here.”

Obviously, that affection for both Larry and Rita is returned by visitors, volunteers and staff alike.

Written by Nancy Crawley

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Our 2016 Volunteer Dinner honored the 87,809 hours our volunteers gave to Meijer Gardens last year. Here are some of the awards given for some extra-special service:


Award winners not pictured:

  • Alexandria Mingerink, Sprout/Seedling Award winner
  • Tina Cronkhite, Flower Power Award winner
  • Con and Jan Oswald, Fantastic Award

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