School district sees volunteer as greenhouse hero

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Principal and soon-to-be district administrator Andy Banasik stands beside local master gardener volunteer Donna Teynor in the high school greenhouse. She was asked to step in with her expertise and help hundreds of plants, flowers and vegetables thrive when COVID-19 forced the school to shut down and neither students nor the teacher could be on-site to do the work. (Photo by Correne Martin)

By Correne Martin


When you start a project, it’s always satisfying to see it through. But, when the coronavirus threatened to ruin the Prairie du Chien High School agriculture program’s greenhouse and rain garden plants, instructor Diane Colburn wasn’t certain her students would see a successful end result. 

That is, until local master gardener volunteer Donna Teynor stepped in.

“We have a beautiful new greenhouse as part of the ag program. Plans had been made and many seeds had been planted when the COVID-19 shutdown hit us,” said Karen Sjoberg, academic and career readiness coordinator. 

Colburn said, before schools closed, she and her students planted 100 hanging baskets and about 150 pots of various plants for the FFA’s annual spring sale. 

Then, some 720 seeding perennials arrived. They weren’t for sale, but were to be kept over the summer for the new student-led rain gardens anticipated on the high school grounds. 

“The seedlings were part of a grant and had to be taken [right then] or not at all,” Sjoberg noted.

State Safer at Home orders were already keeping students away from on-campus learning, and Colburn was also unable to make it to the high school building in person. She lives in Viroqua, 60 miles from the district, and traveling to Prairie du Chien was limited due to family medical concerns related to the coronavirus.

That left Sjoberg and high school principal Andy Banasik to take turns caring for all the potted plants, flowers, seedlings and vegetables—in addition to their other administrative duties.

“Karen and Andy were sending me pictures and I was giving them guidance,” Colburn shared.

“It would have been a struggle to make it through to fall,” Sjoberg quipped.

Thinking about what to do, and having worked with Teynor on the rain garden plans, the ag teacher asked, on a whim, if she could contact the most savvy gardener she knew for possible assistance.

Of course, Teynor agreed to help.

They got her a key to the greenhouse, and she now volunteers a couple times a day to tend to this latest project.

She jumped in and knew exactly what to do: pruning, watering, feeding, checking the pH (alkalinity) balance, etc. She  was definitely in favor of not giving up the plants, Colburn said. Teynor even asked if she could bring materials in to help control the conditions. 

“She repotted every one of those 720 plants the first day. She has the expertise we needed,” Sjoberg said.

Teynor readily admits she’s in heaven in the greenhouse.

“Her stepping in has helped everything, including my sanity,” Colburn laughed. “There’s no way I can think to repay her. The students are also happy it’s being done. They started this project and I think they’re excited it’s actually happening.”

Colburn gave examples of a few of the ways Teynor has gone above and beyond as a volunteer in this capacity. 

“She discovered the pH of our water was horrible, which is one of the things we were going to tackle next,” Colburn stated. “When there was a rain storm, she put big barrels out to catch some of the rain. She’s making the most of this.”

Colburn is “very grateful” to Teynor, Sjoberg and Banasik for not letting these plants die. Though a few were lost between when she left in March and Teynor came in a few weeks later, the majority were saved.

“The kids worked so hard to get their hydroponic system going,” she pointed out. 

The greenhouse is designed to be shut off at the end of the school year, and since the FFA plant sale concluded last week, things are wrapping up for this project. Plants were sold, vegetables were shared with staff and rain garden varieties were salvaged.

“This is a true example of people coming together to help each other out,” Colburn commented. “Donna is the volunteer of the year in my opinion.”

Sjoberg added, “She was a godsend to us.”

Teynor, in her usual nature, acted like committing her time and proficiency was no big deal. 

“I do what I can to help and I’ve enjoyed it,” she said.

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