By Nancy Crawley
Tom Hoving wraps up 14 years as Meijer Gardens Volunteer Manager in June, retiring with the well wishes of hundreds of volunteers. “We’re sad to see him go, but excited for him,” said volunteer Thora White. “He always has the volunteers’ back.”
During his time at Meijer Gardens, the ranks of volunteers swelled dramatically with the addition of the Lena Meijer Children’s Garden, Michigan’s Farm Garden, Frederik Meijer Gardens Amphitheater and the Richard & Helen DeVos Japanese Garden. Every year, volunteers contributed 65,000 hours when Tom started. Now, the roster runs a thousand names long, with volunteers donating 88,000 hours for what is surely one of the largest volunteer operations in West Michigan.
Tom’s job has been a big one—first to recruit and orient newbies before they become gardeners, docents, gift shop clerks, tram drivers and other important jobs, then to make sure they have uniforms, badges, login IDs, and coffee, lots of hot coffee in the volunteer center. He also lines up volunteers for the Fred & Dorothy Fichter Butterflies Are Blooming exhibition, Christmas tree decorating, holiday parties and 30 concerts during the Fifth Third Bank Summer Concerts at Meijer Gardens and nine concerts during the Tuesday Evening Music Club—each requiring 35 volunteers. “There are times when we have four or five concerts a week—that’s a lot of scheduling for back-to-back concerts,” he said. “That’s the hardest part of my job—that, and going to funerals of volunteers.” Through it all, Tom has been cheerful, patient and resilient. And volunteers love him for it. “I always knew Tom would be there to listen, provide advice, or put a smile on my face,” volunteer Sally Schaafsma said.
Born in Chicago and moving to Holland as a teen, Tom worked 22 years at an office furniture company—and one year as volunteer coordinator for the Ronald McDonald House. For five years, he volunteered in the Meijer Gardens indoor horticulture department—a natural fit for the master gardener who had a large garden at home. “Gardening was therapy for me,” he said.
In 2003, he was tapped for a job that quickly turned into Volunteer Manager. His success has much to do with setting a professional, friendly tone for all volunteers, from teens to those north of 90. “I think it’s my ability to connect with the volunteers,” he said, “and that it’s clear how much I love this place.”
But, once retired, Tom will not return to volunteering soon. He wants to wait until his replacement gets comfortable in the job. “I have 10 grandchildren, none in town, so I’m going to do some traveling.”
Still he intends to return some day. “It will feel,” he said, “like I’m going full circle.”