The convention also featured the passing of the president’s gavel from greenhouse grower Leigh Geschwill (F & B Farms & Nursery, Woodburn) to retailer and grower Mark Bigej (Al’s Garden Center, Woodburn).
Bigej will lead a 22-member Board of Directors, which includes a seven-member Executive Committee, in overseeing the 817-member trade association for the next 12 months. The OAN represents a statewide nursery industry that achieved gross sales of nearly $830 million in 2014.
Joining Bigej and past president Geschwill on the Executive Committee are President-Elect Josh Zielinski (Alpha Nursery, Salem, Oregon), Vice President Jim Simnitt (Simnitt Nursery, Canby, Oregon), Treasurer Mike Hiller (Kraemer’s Nursery, Mt. Angel, Oregon), Secretary Kyle Fessler (St. Christopher Nursery LLC, Gervais, Oregon) and Member At Large Wes Bailey (Smith Gardens, Aurora, Oregon).
The awards were as follows:
- The OAN Outstanding Service Award went to Kathy LeCompte, co-owner of Brooks Tree Farm, a seedling grower in Brooks, Oregon. The award is given for outstanding long-term service to the industry and association. Kathy served as OAN president in 2001 and has remained politically active ever since. She campaigned for George W. Bush for president in 2004, and ran for the Oregon Legislature in 2010 and 2012. Throughout these campaigns she has continued to push for nursery industry priorities including comprehensive immigration reform.
- The Clayton W. Hannon Distinguished Service Award went to Pete Brentano, co-owner of Brentano Tree Farm, a tree grower in St. Paul, Oregon. The award honors specific and notable service to the industry. It is named for Clayton W. Hannon, the former OAN executive director. Pete is part of the sixth generation of his family’s farming operation and serves as a volunteer firefighter and member of the St. Paul Rodeo Association. He served as the OAN president in 2006 and after completing his year, has continued to represent the industry on issues that are critical to its survival. He was appointed to the Oregon Board of Agriculture in 2012 and reappointed in 2016, and will chair the board in 2017.
- The Pat Richardson Memorial Award went to Sid Wurdinger of Wurdinger Manufacturing in Scotts Mills, Oregon. The award is sponsored by the Richardson family in memory of Pat Richardson. It honors an individual or company who has been innovative in implementing new technology into the nursery industry. Sid worked with GK Machine and Woodburn Nursery & Azaleas before founding Wurdinger Manufacturing 16 years ago. He has developed several machines to help growers automate nursery production steps and reduce the worker effort required to produce nursery products.
- The Political Awareness Award was given to Steve Shropshire, shareholder and former managing partner of Jordan Ramis P.C., with offices in Lake Oswego and Bend, Oregon, and Vancouver, Wash. The award honors an individual who has shown exceptional political awareness in dedicated support of the nursery industry. Steve is a key component of the OAN’s Government Relations team, helping to defend the industry against adverse regulation and strategically advance the industry’s interests on multiple fronts. He has been able to not only deal with threats as they arise but anticipate and neutralize them before they come to the surface.
- The Chapter of the Year Award was given to the Hood Chapter, which represents growers in Multnomah County and the Mt. Hood area. The award is given to a committee or chapter that is particularly successful in service to the OAN membership. The award was given for the chapter’s initiative in preparing for the future. The chapter has begun a series of social gatherings for younger members of the nursery trade, and also created an Oregon Nursery Map App for iOS and Android devices. The award was accepted by chapter president Anthony Kinen, owner of Kinen’s Big & Phat Special Plants, on behalf of the chapter.
- The Distinguished Member of the Horticultural Allied Trades went to Rick and Elizabeth Peters, owners of The Peters Company in Wilsonville, Oregon. The award recognizes an allied trade member (or in this case, members) who has shown exemplary support for the OAN, the industry and our members. Rick and Elizabeth are the founders of the Oregon Nursery Lean Consortium. The program helps nurseries deal with the increasing cost and decreasing availability of labor. It brings together improvement leaders from multiple companies to learn and apply Lean principles, thereby reducing waste and delivering more value to customers at a lower cost.
- The New Nursery Professional of the Year Award, sponsored by Northwest Farm Credit Services, went to Kyle Fessler, co-owner at St. Christopher Nursery in Gervais, Oregon. The award honors a person relatively new to the nursery trade who demonstrates outstanding service to the OAN and the industry. Kyle was born and raised in the nursery industry and graduated from Willamette University in 2007. He formed St. Christopher Nursery with his parents, Tom and Debbie Fessler, in 2006. He started as a contract grower of blueberries and has converted to production of ornamental shrubs for the wholesale market. He has served the Willamette Chapter as board member in 2013, vice president in 2014, president in 2015, and OAN state board representative from 2014–present. He has joined the OAN Executive Committee for 2017 and will serve as secretary.
- The OAN Honorary Life Membership went to Chris Guntermann of Horticultural Services Inc. The award is given to longtime members based on their lifetime service to the industry and association. He has worked in the horticulture industry for 40 years, including stints with Holland Bulb Company, Clackamas Greenhouses and, since 2003, Horticultural Services Inc. He has served on numerous committees, including the Yard, Garden & Patio Show Committee, the Membership Committee, the Environment and Natural Resources Committee and the Oregon Invasive Species Council.
And finally, the President’s Five Star Awards, chosen by outgoing president Leigh Geschwill, were given in recognition of outstanding or crucial service, assistance or support rendered during the president’s year. They were as follows:
- Greg and Tamara Clift, owners of McKenzie River Nursery in Springfield, Oregon, were honored for their years of service to the industry including frequently serving as officers and board representatives for the Emerald Empire Chapter, which includes the Eugene/Springfield area.
- Debbie Hopkins, the accounting and database manager for Oregon Association of Nurseries in Wilsonville, Oregon was recognized for her service to the board and the association.
- Cindy Lou Pease, owner of Evans Farms in Oregon City, Oregon, was recognized for her enthusiasm for, and promotion of, the nursery industry, as well as her long service and mentorship as an industry member.
- Ryan Contreras is an associate professor of ornamental plant breeding at Oregon State University and is based in Corvallis. His breeding efforts have focused on woody nursery and landscape plants, and has developed several improved varieties for the trade, which benefits all growers and the industry as a whole.
- The Adopt A Farmer Program was created by Oregon AgLink (formerly the Agri-Business Council of Oregon). It pairs a middle school classroom with a farm or ranch for the entire academic year, so students can build a relationship with their adopted farmer. The students go on a field trip to the farm, where they can see what life is like there, and the farmer visits the classroom 2-3 times a year, giving them a perspective on the science behind the crops.