By Kevin Greer
Lakeside Communications Manager
It wasn’t a secret that Loretta Wilken decided to retire. She informed her superiors of her plans over two years ago. Her last day was Jan. 5, and she leaves a legacy that will continue for many years.
“I wanted to give them some time to let it sink in,” Wilken said. “I was passed the time where I could retire, but this was kind of the date I picked.”
Lakeside President & CEO Charles Allen says Wilken’s personality shows in the work she did all over the community.
“Loretta is a beautiful person with a joyful spirit,” Allen said. “It’s not a surprise when you meet her why our gardens and grounds are so great, because that’s who she is. I also believe she plants things in people to get their best to come out with them. We appreciate, honor and thank her for planting more than just seeds in the ground and Lakeside.”
As Lakeside’s first master gardener, Wilken led a team that beautified the community all year round since she was hired in 2016. She also educated Lakesiders by starting two programs, and both grew quickly in popularity without needing water. She answered questions during Ask the Gardener at the Tuesday Farmers’ Market and invited gardening experts to give lectures at Thursday’s Get Growing! programs during the summer.
“One of the criteria was not only working in the gardens and everything along with that, but the education component was a big part of it,” Wilken said. “The Master Gardener classes were a big push. I think that propelled my ability to really get into a lot of programs. It was just such a great way to meet with people on a weekly basis, have one-on-one conversations with Lakesiders and learn about their gardens.”
The areas Wilken and her team have worked on are too many to list, but they also took on a couple new projects. The Hubbard Pickleball Center and the Grindley Aquatic & Wellness Campus were added to Lakeside during her tenure, and the beauty around those areas is impossible not to notice. The native prairie garden at the corner of Sixth Street and Vine Avenue is one of her “biggies,” and one of her favorite spots.
“The prairie garden is near and dear to my heart,” Wilken said. “The great thing about it is that it is so labor free. You basically either burn it or mow it, and then it comes back and it just kind of is on its own. The rewards of it are just so terrific.”
The environment is always something Wilken kept in mind by focusing on native and pollinator plants when creating gardens in Lakeside. Native plants provide nectar for pollinators including hummingbirds, native bees and butterflies. They can significantly reduce water runoff, flooding and help reduce air pollution. Pollinators play a crucial role in supporting biodiversity assist with plant reproduction by helping to move pollen within or between flowers.
“Natives are heartier, easier to take care of and grow better,” Wilken said. “Pollinator plants just coming into the environment has become really important as far as the whole ecosystem that’s involved.”
In late September, Wilken traveled to Spartansburg, South Carolina, with Lakeside’s Vice President of Advancement & Marketing Gretchen Colón and Director of Horticulture Kyle Bueter for the America in Bloom (AIB) Symposium.
AIB is an organization that promotes nationwide beautification through education and community involvement by encouraging the use of flowers, plants, trees and other environmental and lifestyle enhancements. Colón spearheaded the campaign to nominate Lakeside in Wilken’s final season and the judges were impressed with the work done by her and the team. Lakeside was named the winner in the 3,500-6,000 Population Category and earned the award for Historical Significance.
“It was pretty incredible to get those awards and feel validated,” Wilken said. “Including me in some type of an awards program is really gratifying.”
While most of her time was spent on the grounds, Wilken’s fondest memories in Lakeside were in Hoover Auditorium. She enjoyed many of the lectures, including astronaut Kathy Sullivan’s keynote last season. Wilken was thrilled to meet a couple people she considers “rockstars” in her field, including authors and architects Julie Moir Messervy and Sarah Susanka and entomologist Doug Tallamy. She’ll always remember when she had opportunity to introduce Herman’s Hermits, one of Lakeside’s favorite bands.
“Doug Tallamy and Sarah Susanka were were supposed to be here in 2020, but that fell apart because of COVID,” Wilken said. “When they were able to come here, I was pretty giddy. It was crazy being on Hoover stage introducing Herman’s Hermits and seeing those people out there applauding. It took my breath away.”
Even though Wilken is retiring, it won’t be the last time she’ll be in Lakeside. She will continue working in residential gardens and Bueter, who is now in charge of the Grounds Team, may invite her back to speak during one of the Get Growing! programs she helped create. She is also interested in attending some Hoover shows and lectures this summer. On her final day, she was given a well-deserved lifetime pass to Lakeside, so it’s likely she’ll be spotted in the community.
Wilken plans to spend more time with her family and do some traveling. She and her husband would like to move to a home with some acreage where they have gardens, animals and a view of western sunset. Her family is Lyman boaters, so she looks forward to being on Lake Erie more often.
Wilken says her biggest accomplishment was making the gardens beautiful and accessible in a financially responsible way. She enjoyed working with the team and always knowing that administration was “100% behind” her and open to new ideas.
“One of my ideas when I started was to make Lakeside a gardening destination and I think we’re in a pretty good place for that,” Wilken said. “I don’t think a day goes by where people don’t appreciate the gardens, and I think it comes down to bringing all of that beauty to the community and having it recognized and that people actually enjoy it so much. Working at Lakeside has been a joy! I’m thankful for working with such a creative supportive staff who’ve become my friends, getting to know the incredible residents, and being able to enjoy that amazing view every day.”