Why I Volunteer: Chantra Laninga

Written by Nancy Crawley

Smiling faces, happy people. That’s why Chantra Laninga is quick to volunteer for all kinds of special events at Meijer Gardens.

For nine years, the Grand Rapids resident has been wrapping presents at the holiday gift show and hanging shiny bobbles on Christmas trees, checking visitors for stow-away butterflies at the Butterflies are Blooming show, tending blossoms in the orchid room, and lending a hand at the Farm Garden and Japanese Garden.

The variety delights her. “I never knew there were 20 kinds of tomatoes,” she marveled after working one of the Farm Garden shows.


Chantra Laninga

Chantra’s journey to Grand Rapids and eventually the Gardens’ volunteer ranks started on the other side of the world.

She was born and raised in Thailand. There, she taught lab sciences to medical students before coming to the United States at age 29 to accept an internship at Mercy Health St. Mary’s hospital.

She made Grand Rapids her home, working for 38 years as a St. Mary’s medical technologist. “I was a life scientist, doing all kinds of lab tests, whatever the doctors requested,” she said.

It was challenging and fulfilling work, but, like any busy hospital, the atmosphere was intense. Often, “people had sad faces,” she recalls. So nine years ago, while still working full time, she began volunteering, relishing the cheerful people in the beautiful Gardens.

Now 76 and retired, she still savors the same joy.

“When you walk in, you feel different,” she said. “You see people smiling, having fun,everything fresh. It’s hard to find that in this world.”


To explore volunteering, visit meijergardens.org/involved/volunteer/, or contact Tom Hoving at thoving@meijergardens.org or 616-974-5221. Volunteer orientation sessions are set for Dec. 7, 2016, and Feb. 7 and April 11, 2017, starting at 10:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m.

Why I Volunteer: Daryl Mick

Written by Nancy Crawley

The Chinese vase artfully displayed next to a silk scarf and handmade beads. Holiday cards and bonsai plants set to catch your eye.

Daryl Mick, 66, helps craft those oh-so-tempting displays at the Gardens gift shop. Twice a week, he’s there, unpacking boxes and ringing up customers, all to make sure the shop is revenue-producing hit with visitors piling off tour buses and local families looking for unique gifts.



Daryl Mick

It’s all old hat for Daryl who’s spent his career in merchandising. After 44 years with retailer giant Meijer Inc., the Grand Rapids native retired in 2013. Shortly after, he found his niche in a way that so many others have – through another volunteer encouraging him.

He was helping at the Gilda’s LaughFest fundraiser when a friend working with him suggested he’d be a natural for the Gardens gift shop.

She was right. “It’s good fit for me,” he said. “I like working with the people, setting up displays and helping with the pricing.”

He also pitches in on special events like “Butterflies are Blooming” and the holiday gift show – “I worked 25 hours in two and a half days,” he marveled after the gift show.

Now, he’s the one encouraging friends and family to join the Gardens’ volunteer ranks. “I plan to be here as long as I can.”

To explore volunteering, visit meijergardens.org/involved/volunteer/, or contact Tom Hoving at thoving@meijergardens.org or 616-974-5221. Volunteer orientation sessions are set for Dec. 7, 2016, and Feb. 7 and April 11, 2017, starting at 10:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m.

Why I Volunteer: Edie Marion

Written by Nancy Crawley

You’ll find Edie Marion at the steering wheel of the Gardens’ tram twice a week, making sure guests get just the right views of the American Horse and the rest of the Sculpture Garden – “Neuron” and “Listening to History” are among her favorites. Then she pilots the 42-seat, diesel-powered tram on winding paths next to the Japanese Garden, Michigan Farm Garden and Woodland Shade Garden.


Edie Marion

No, she’s not a professional driver, though she is known to hop on her motor scooter for a spin at home.

Edie, 66, was a registered nurse for 32 years, caring for patients at Mercy Health St. Mary’s hospital in the intermediate cardiac and later the psychiatric medical unit.

She has been volunteering since shortly after retiring in 2012, though her ties to the Gardens go way back to its construction when she was an early donor.

“It’s an organization I believe in,” she said. “It fills a big niche in Grand Rapids, and it’s nice to be part of it.”

She’s also been a volunteer for Wyoming city elections and the Wyoming Police Department’s RSVP program handling jobs like parking lot patrols and inspection complaints.

She’s a firm believer in the payback that comes from volunteering. “I tell people it would be so good for you to get out, help people and do something with your hands and your mind.”

To explore volunteering, visit meijergardens.org/involved/volunteer/, or contact Tom Hoving at thoving@meijergardens.org or 616-974-5221. Volunteer orientation sessions are set for Dec. 7, 2016, and Feb. 7 and April 11, 2017, starting at 10:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m.

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

November at a glance


Christmas and Holiday Traditions Around the World

While the weather may be getting colder, November brings with it warm feelings of the holiday season. Here is a taste of some of the festivities happening this month:

  • Christmas and Holiday Traditions Around the World
    • Excitement surrounds the holiday season as the annual Christmas and Holiday Traditions Around the World exhibition brings the glow of nearly 400,000 lights, strolling carolers, rooftop reindeer and more than 40 international trees and displays. The beloved exhibition begins on November 22nd!
  • Holiday Gift Show
    • The search for the season’s most eclectic gifts is over. Our perennially popular Holiday Gift Show makes an art form out of gift giving—and gift wrapping, which is always complimentary. Members and guests alike come from far and wide to see and shop for treasures collected from more than three dozen regional artists and vendors, each chosen for its delightful distinction. New this year is a sumptuous selection of bottled wines and wine accessories! The show, on November 5th, is free to attend. Members receive a 10% discount when presenting their membership card.
  • Winter-Time Walks
    • Winter in the Children’s Garden can be chilly, but fun! Bundle up and join us on an outdoor interactive discovery walk (Tuesdays & Thursdays at 10:15 and 11:15 and Saturdays at 11:15) to investigate the Children’s Garden in new ways. Then gather by the hearth in the log cabin to learn about winter with stories and kid-friendly conversation. Walks begin on November 22nd.
  • Giving Tuesday
    • There are so many wonderful ways to be a part of Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park. We wouldn’t be able to do what we do without the generous support of our donors and volunteers. This month look for opportunities on social media to get involved by donating your time, talents and resources, in the spirit of Giving Tuesday!


Hope to see you before December!

October at a glance


Giant Pumpkins event, Photo by Ana Bosma 

Fall is in full swing at Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park! Join us as we celebrate the colors and textures of this beautiful season.

  • An Evening with Dietrich Klinge
    • We are honored to host Dietrich Klinge at the 11th Annual Charles Schoenknecht & Ward Paul Sculpture Lecture on October 25th. This is an unusual event for the internationally renowned sculptor and printmaker, who rarely speaks publicly and has never accepted such an opportunity in the United States. “An Evening with Dietrich Klinge” will offer an intimate and personal public appearance as part of a conversation with Chief Curator and Vice President of Collections and Exhibitions, Joseph Becherer.
  • Giant Pumpkins
    • Celebrate the fall season in a BIG way: discover giant pumpkins on display at Michigan’s Farm Garden! Weighing in at hundreds of pounds, these pumpkins will amaze kids and adults alike. Enjoy a cooking demonstration that will highlight the versatile use of this popular fall gourd. The pumpkins will be on display October 15th and 16th.
  • Almost Home: Grand Rapids in Focus
    • Grand Rapids has nurtured a significant community of artists, locals and transplants alike. “Almost Home: Grand Rapids in Focus” invites these artists to reflect on their experiences with Grand Rapids as the conceptual foundation of new work. The exhibition is also a part of ArtPrize, and is a finalist for the Outstanding Venue juried award, and Nate Lareau’s “Ditch Lily Drawing” made the top 20 in the public vote! The exhibition runs through December 31st.
  • Chrysanthemums and More!
    • Autumn is a time of dramatic transformation across our gardens—this year, more than ever. In this season of expectation, we invite you to expect the unexpected as you experience Chrysanthemums and More!  From horticulture to harvest, this year’s exhibition ushers in the change of season with a palette of purples sure to intrigue your senses and even inspire a fresh perspective on fall. Savor Chrysanthemums and More! through October 30th.


Hope to see you before November!

Early Member Hours


Paige, one of our seasonal gardeners, captured this beautiful sunrise through the Lena Meijer Tropical Conservatory

Enjoy beautiful mornings at Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park!

Our Early Member Hours are the first full weekend of each month –  Saturdays from 8 to 9 AM and Sundays from 9 to 11 AM. The Sculpture Park, Gardens, and Galleries will be available for members to visit. However, The Gift Shop, Taste of the Gardens Café, and Library will not be open during these additional hours.

Admission will be granted to those covered by a membership and guests allowed under their level of membership, if applicable. There will be no general admission during these times, even if accompanied by a member.

Visit our website to learn more about becoming a member!