2020 Monthly Tree Ambassadors

Get to know staff and learn what it’s like to be a tree champion at The Morton Arboretum.

Content Detail

Matthew Taylor

Video Production Specialist

What is your favorite season at the Arboretum and why?

It was difficult to decide, but Matthew landed on fall for a number of reasons. The cool weather and the continuous colors throughout the collections are just a couple. Every week, shrubs and trees are in various stages of coloring. From the perspective and point of view of what Matthew does with videography, the sun flares shown through the camera during that time of the year are his favorite. They present as nice, long flares spread across the frame that capture the beauty and the feel of the sun on screen.

What is the best part of your job?

Working at the Arboretum is really the best part of his job. Having a backyard of 1,700 acres of beauty as an employee is amazing. As it relates to his work, Matthew is grateful to work in such a creative field. Moving from the tedious and laborious stage of preproduction to production itself carries with it a mixed bag of excitement, risk, and freedom. Matthew finds that process energizing, whether he is shooting B-roll or an interview. There’s a level of excitement in how he frames the subject and in how that translates into his end camera choices. Matthew also finds a great deal of satisfaction connecting with people when interviewing during filming. His role is not just to film them, but to support them. Sometimes the subjects are nervous, and he appreciates being able to help folks bring out what they are trying to say, helping them to dig deeper. Matthew is committed to the quality of the end product and finds achieving that quality very rewarding.

Do you have a favorite location on the grounds or a favorite tree?

As far as a favorite location, there are so many beautiful places at the Arboretum that Matthew appreciates. Some of them are very common to others, but in particular, he enjoys the Appalachia Collection. Due to the topography of the collection, Matthew is able to capture great depth in his videography. The area has various trees and shrubs that make it interesting year-round, in all four seasons. There are many tall, grand trees, specifically oaks. It feels transformative to travel through that area. Appalachia doesn’t really register as being present in an otherwise relatively flat Illinois; but at the right angle, Matthew feels like he is in the mountains. As far as a favorite tree, Matthew appreciates the colorful bracts and the texture on the flowers of the red flowering dogwood in the China Collection.

What do you want visitors to know about The Morton Arboretum and the mission?

As part of the Marketing and Communications Department, Matthew and his team always have this question top of mind. While visitors think of the Arboretum as a beautiful place to visit, Matthew wants them to know that when they visit, or donate, or take a class, that they are supporting invaluable research both on the Arboretum grounds and globally to protect and understand trees. It is because of this research that Matthew believes families and children can unlearn tree blindness, and learn to respect and appreciate trees. He knows this from experience, as he sees every tree that he walks by, which he didn’t do before he joined the Arboretum staff.  Members and guests help the Arboretum stay on track in the work to sustain trees  and help them thrive in a new and changing climate.

When thinking of the Arboretum’s Employee Core Values, which one resonates with you and why?

All of the Employee Core Values are great values, but work(ing) together is a big theme at this present time, not just in the workplace but in the world. Matthew sees this as a transformative process. If he is working on a project, he may be the only one that has eyes on it for a period of time; but when he collaborates, and when he is working together with others, the product he is trying to create is amplified. Working together allows Matthew to grow individually and to be exposed to diverse opinions; it’s humbling. While there is a time and place for working alone, collaboration is essential at some point to ensure the execution of a project.

What’s an insider tip that you’d like to share with visitors?

His tip actually aligns with his favorite location in the Appalachia Collection. Matthew recommends hiking Main Trail Loop 1, and on the north side of the trail, taking photos that will capture a mountainlike scene. The Appalachia Collection also has great colors to show the separation and the depth in the space.

Share an interesting fun fact about you:

What do Matthew Taylor and Duke Ellington have in common? They both have synesthesia, a neurological condition that cross connects senses, allowing them to apply two senses at a time. Matthew has a deep background in music, and when he hears or plays music, he equates colors with the music notes. For example, C is blue, D is purple, E is brown, and so on. And even the sharps and flats have their own color identifiers. Matthew applies this to work, as it helps him understand the harmonic structure of his pieces.

Jean Leidinger

Visitor Services Information Manager

What is your favorite season at the Arboretum and why?

Jean enjoys spring because of all the wildflowers in the East Woods. Often Jean will go out at the end of her workday to see what she can find on the forest floor. Because the wildflowers come and go so quickly, Jean will make numerous trips to the woods over the course of several weeks. Jean also appreciates that the woods are quieter at the end of the day.

What is the best part of your job?

While Jean was working the other day at the Information Services Desk, a visitor asked for her advice on what was good to see at that time. Always having something in her back pocket, Jean provided a rundown of the colors that were peaking when she was out a few days earlier. The visitor appreciated Jean’s insight, and commented that Jean seemed to really enjoy her job. Jean appreciates the opportunity to provide information to enhance a visitor’s experience and create a personal connection. So, when Jean has a chance to share her love of the Arboretum, and when the visitors do the courtesy of listening, that’s a good day in her book.

Do you have a favorite location on the grounds or a favorite tree?

If she had to narrow it down to one location, it would be the East Woods. Besides enjoying the wildflowers in the East Woods, she is also drawn to the woods in the fall when the leaves on the trees and the leaves on the ground are bright yellow, making the forest come to light. One doesn’t often think of a forest as being bright, so it is definitely something to see. As for a favorite tree, Jean does make a point of checking in on her grandparents’ memorial tree, a crabapple that was planted on the main road leading to Thornhill, just past the Morton Family Cemetery. She recalls when the tree was planted that the former landscape architect and former director of development both came in on a Saturday to help her family plant the tree.

What do you want visitors to know about The Morton Arboretum and the mission?

Jean finds that when she is sharing information about the Arboretum with others, more often than not they are surprised that we are a private institution. Many visitors assume the Arboretum is tax-supported, which is not the case. This has played a large role in the Arboretum being able to remain open, and being able to offer much needed resources and services during this time. Jean wants to remind  visitors that we do what we do because of them!

When thinking of the Arboretum’s Employee Core Values, which one resonates with you and why?

Customer service is Jean’s life work (28 years, but who’s counting?) at the Arboretum, thus taking ownership is a must. Jean often tells her team that they don’t have to have all the answers to the many questions they receive, they just need to know where to find them. Taking ownership to Jean means getting back to the members and guests with the answers they seek. She also links taking ownership to the desire to get messages out to the public better. Jean’s current phrase that pays is “We may be open again, but we are not back to normal.”

What’s an insider tip that you’d like to share with visitors?

Come early or come late, the Arboretum is less busy during these off-peak hours. Everyone wants to come at 1 pm when amenities are open, but if you want to really enjoy the grounds, coming early is good for that. There are things to see in all seasons, especially on foot, not just from your car. Visitors will see and hear things if they are out walking that they wouldn’t otherwise, even in the winter. There are more subtle things to see in person, like animal tracks in the snow. A spectacular red tree is nice, but you don’t always need the wow moment.

Share an interesting fun fact about you:

Jean is notorious for sporting an Iowa Hawkeye lanyard, which she proudly displayed during this virtual interview, and which is also the source of her interesting fact(s). Jean attended a Rose Bowl game when Iowa played (year undisclosed) and also was lucky enough to attend the Final Four tournament to support her favorite team. Not too many people are able to say that! Interestingly, as Jean was enrolling in an out of state college, coincidentally also in Iowa, she found she had a unique connection to her freshman year roommate, who she was randomly assigned to be her roommate. Both of their fathers were the same age and went to high school and college together. It is a small world after all!

Carolyn Scarpelli

Early Childhood Program Instructor

What is your favorite season at the Arboretum and why?

Recognizing that the common answer is likely fall, Carolyn’s answer is the same, but not because of the fall colors, but because it is the beginning of the school year that brings Carolyn excitement as she introduces students to The Morton Arboretum. As a teacher of young students, fall provides so many learning and sensory opportunities, whether it’s observing squirrels preparing for the long winter months ahead, or seeing the daily changes to the variety of trees on the grounds.

What is the best part of your job?

According to Carolyn, the best part of her role in the Little Trees nature-based preschool program is being outside with the kids. Admittedly, Carolyn said she could never be in an office. Being able to be outside with kids is extremely rewarding and a passion of hers. Carolyn appreciates being able to experience the world with the kids and to see them interact with nature. Before coming to the Arboretum, most of Carolyn’s work was in outdoor education; finding an outdoor preschool was something she was working on finding for a long time. Her role at the Arboretum perfectly blends these two interests together.

Do you have a favorite location on the grounds or a favorite tree?

Without a doubt, Carolyn’s favorite location is the spruce plot. She lived in California for 18 months, and one of the places she lived was located in the mountains. Being in the spruce plot reminds her of being back in California, and she feels as if she has been transported to a different location.

What do you want visitors to know about The Morton Arboretum and the mission?

Carolyn would want to share with our visitors how passionate the employees are in working toward the mission. Whether working from home or on-site at the Arboretum, or traveling somewhere to learn about trees in different areas, Arboretum employees passionately care about the projects and the research and the people they are teaching. Carolyn appreciates being a part of that community and contributing to benefitting our visitors.

When thinking of the Arboretum’s Employee Core Values, which one resonates with you and why?

Actually, two Employee Core Values stand out for Carolyn. As an educator, the value to Keep Learning is so important, whether it’s finding new ways to teach, or just learning more about the Arboretum in general. Working Together is also so important for the Little Trees program, especially this year with all the changes implemented to provide a safe and educational experience for the kids. Carolyn’s team is there to make it happen, helping each other out every day.

What’s an insider tip that you’d like to share with visitors?

Find the nature play spaces throughout the Arboretum on the East and West Sides, especially the mud kitchen space near P20. These are fun places for kids to explore outside of the Children’s Garden.

Share an interesting fun fact about you:

One of Carolyn’s interests is true crimes, and she is even in a true crime book club where the participants talk about their theories if it is an unsolved mystery and can share their disdain for some of the characters in the books. Carolyn also likes to watch a lot of documentaries on these topics, like the recent Golden State Killer Docu-Series and The Vow Documentary. Carolyn is also an avid podcast listener, on all topics, not just crimes!

Michelle Catania

Research Assistant II

What is your favorite season at the Arboretum and why?

While fall is awesome, Michelle gravitates toward spring, when everything comes alive and we can finally see what we’ve been waiting for. Michelle appreciates the smells of things thawing and growing. Michelle enjoys that she can look through the forest and see all the buds starting to burst. Fall is the beginning of the end; spring is the beginning.

What is the best part of your job?

Michelle has said repeatedly during her tenure that she greatly appreciates that she works at a world-renowned organization that is supported by our visitors and members. Just the fact that individuals will join as members or make the financial investment to visit is phenomenal. It demonstrates that people are invested in what the Arboretum does. Especially now, the Arboretum’s output is sensory-friendly and it feels good to Michelle to be a part of this escape. She appreciates working at a beautiful oasis in the middle of the urban sprawl, and that benefit is not lost on Michelle. She can see looking at people’s faces that they are happy when they are at the Arboretum.

Do you have a favorite location on the grounds or a favorite tree?

While it doesn’t have an official name or location, Michelle’s favorite spot is the ravines in the East Woods near the second loop on the East side. If Michelle could live there, she would. It is her favorite place because of the rolling hills, trees, and squirrels.

What do you want visitors to know about The Morton Arboretum and the mission?

As a part of the Center for Tree Science, Michelle wants visitors to understand that their financial support goes towards deepening our understanding of trees, especially with the new Gateway to Tree Science. There is a direct line from research to reality, as the Chicago Region Trees Initiative works to apply this research to help our regional communities, impacting the urban areas in which we live. Without the financial support of our visitors, we would not be where we are, and trees make everything better.

When thinking of the Arboretum’s Employee Core Values, which one resonates with you and why?

Because Michelle is continually exploring the correlation between urban trees and soils, it would have to be the Employee Core Value to Keep Learning. While she appreciates the value to Make the Arboretum Exceptional, Michelle believes it is exceptional already!

What’s an insider tip that you’d like to share with visitors?

As an ecologist, Michelle encourages visitors to go off the path, find a rotten log, flip it, and see what there is that you wouldn’t otherwise see. Her mantra is flip it, smell it, and pick it up. For Michelle, it doesn’t get much better than that. Forest bathing is getting a lot of attention, and it all centers around the smells that are stress reducing. Michelle doesn’t want visitors to be scared to get their hands dirty, to rub soil between their fingers and really experience weathered rock.

Share an interesting fun fact about you:

Michelle promised herself while working toward her first science degree (BS, Biology) that she would never, ever work in a lab because she hated all things analytical. Well, truth be told, she has loved every minute of the last 10 years working in a lab. Maybe the forest bathing has helped!

Ronald (Ron) Dulceak

Head of Facilities

What is your favorite season at the Arboretum and why?

Fall has always been Ron’s favorite time of year, even before coming to work at The Morton Arboretum. Ron enjoys the warm days, cool nights, the changing of colors, and the different smells in the air. These have only been amplified by working at the Arboretum.

What is the best part of your job?

Working in the skilled trades field, Ron finds there is something new every day. Even though he may have the same tasks on a ‘to do’ list, something always pops up that makes his day different. His role is not routine, but has a lot of variety. Equipment may go down, or a water line might break; his day often has new challenges. Ron works on numerous different projects, for example, putting protocols in place to allow employees to safely return to the workplace amid the current pandemic.

Do you have a favorite location on the grounds or a favorite tree?

Ron enjoys visiting the spillway at Sterling Pond that feeds into Lake Marmo. He finds that area peaceful and relaxing, almost zen-like. The area is set back from the main road, and thanks to a generous gift from a donor, a new limestone wall and sitting area was installed in recent years. The fall colors reflecting off the water also adds to the reason that fall is his favorite season.

What do you want visitors to know about The Morton Arboretum and the mission?

Simply put, Ron wants our visitors to know that trees really are needed given the amount of trees we lose each year, whether by disease or climate change, tree plantings are essential to replenish what is lost. Last summer, the Arboretum’s tree crew removed 500 dead pines, and that’s just a small portion of overall tree loss. Ron also sees the Crabapple Collection starting to wither away. Trees are needed and are a vital part of life.

When thinking of the Arboretum’s Employee Core Values, which one resonates with you and why?

Taking ownership resonates the most with Ron. His father owned his own business and instilled this value in Ron as a child. Ron was taught to have pride in what you do, and as a self-employed businessman, Ron’s dad emphasized that it is your name and your reputation on the line, especially when you are a local business owner. Ron shares this same thinking with his staff. You don’t just get through a task to get through it, but instead, you take pride and make it your own to get the job done.

What’s an insider tip that you’d like to share with visitors?

Though the plant sale couldn’t take place this year due to the pandemic, Ron encourages our visitors to get to the annual Plant Sale, which is typically held in April over Arbor Day weekend. There’s such a variety of different types of plants available to purchase from annuals to perennials to herbs, shrubs, and trees. The Arboretum’s sale offers items that you wouldn’t see at your local nursery.

Share an interesting fun fact about you:

Ron had a near-death experience on a trip to Mexico during a four-wheeler day trip. On the way back to his hotel, Ron jumped a speed bump and landed in the grass, headed directly toward a barbed-wire fence. As he tried to jump off the four-wheeler, Ron’s head hit a fence post, and he woke up six feet in the air, tangled upside down in the barbed wire fence. Ron is amazed that not only did he survive, but that the local residents in the town came to his aid to help him untangle from the barbed wire and to make sure he was OK. No more four-wheelers for Ron in the near future!

Daniel Neuffer

Information Technology Operations Supervisor

What is your favorite season at the Arboretum and why?

Each season is so unique that it’s hard for Daniel to pick just one, but ultimately, spring would be his choice because of the many changes coming in the forest floor, such as when the first snowdrops come up. Daniel notices the changes as the leaf buds slowly start to grow and in one week, it’s an explosion of green color in the canopies. When going on a hike, one of Daniel’s favorite experiences is to see the little details, such as the buds coming up through the ground.

What is the best part of your job?

Daniel appreciates that as part of the IT team, he gets to work with people in every department of the Arboretum. By learning about all the different roles people have, he is motivated by the satisfaction of helping someone who might be frustrated with a technical problem. He likes being able to give them a solution or new tool that helps them to do their job better. For Daniel, just learning what is going on at the Arboretum is one of the best parts; anything from what they are researching in the herbarium to what they are planning on the grounds and collections, to learning about the special events and about what is going on in the gatehouse. The Arboretum has so many complex operations that it gives Daniel an opportunity to learn about what’s going on, and feel a part of this important community with such a broad focus.

Do you have a favorite location on the grounds or a favorite tree?

Daniel grew up close to the Arboretum and thus, the grounds are ingrained in his history. One of his favorite places is the waterfall by Lake Marmo. It is a habitat for the blue heron to scoop fish out of the water, and a great place to go after a big rainfall. The sounds make Daniel feel that he is away from civilization, and it is also a great place that can be meditative. Daniel moved to Lisle in the 5th grade and his parents’ house backed up to the Schulenberg Prairie. He enjoyed gazing out at a lone tree (bur oak), where he could see red-tailed hawks swooping up and down the tree grabbing their food from the prairie.

What do you want visitors to know about The Morton Arboretum and the mission?

He would highly encourage visitors to get away from the Visitor Center and get out onto trails. While walking around the Visitor Center and Children’s Garden is enjoyable, getting deep into the grounds provides a different experience. The current Troll Hunt exhibition encourages visitors to do just that, which also increases their knowledge about trees. Visitors can identify most trees by looking for the tree tags affixed to many of the trees. Daniel no longer thinks that all trees are the same after learning how to identify them by their bark or leaves.

When thinking of the Arboretum’s Employee Core Values, which one resonates with you and why?

The core value of Taking Ownership is most important to Daniel. This applies not just to his role in Information Technology, but he also feels responsible for being a steward of our planet. He understands the importance of taking care of the environment in which we live. Several years ago, Daniel remembers being on a run at the Arboretum and he noticed leaders of the Arboretum stopping to pick up trash. This is the type of behavior that Daniel wants to model for others to follow.

What’s an insider tip that you’d like to share with visitors?

Daniel’s mother was a naturalist guide at the Arboretum so he picked up a lot of things from her. One of the things she taught him was how to look for owls by looking for whitewash on the ground or on low branches of trees, or even owl pellets. Daniel is interested in wildlife and finds himself looking at the ground (instead of the trees) in winter to track animals and identify them by their tracks. Did you know that coyotes generally keep a very straight path and their hind paws may overlap front prints?

Share an interesting fun fact about you:

A second love of Daniel’s coincides with his work at the Arboretum. In the summer months, Daniel helps teach at an Internal Drive Tech camp. At this camp, he teaches high school-aged kids how to make computer animations and video game designs. He began teaching at this camp when he was originally a part-time employee at the Arboretum in 2013, and he has been teaching at campuses all over the United States including UW Seattle, UC Berkeley, and the UC Irvine. Daniel enjoys teaching, and he feels that he gets to apply that passion in both of his roles, at the Arboretum and at the camp.

Peg Rurik

Membership Sales Supervisor

What is your favorite season at the Arboretum and why?

When asked this question by others, Peg consistently responds that her favorite time at the Arboretum is any time that she is there. Peg encourages everyone to appreciate the current season and time at that moment. If she had to settle on one season though, she would pick spring. The emerging blooms and leaves offer hope of new life.

What is the best part of your job?

The opportunity to interact with people is why Peg does what she does, which has been especially emphasized working with her membership team in recent weeks. Given some of the challenges she and her team have had to navigate since March, she appreciates those people even more than she already did. Peg refers to her interactions with others as the life of the job, not just with the membership team, but with the entire organization. It’s a great culture of happy people, who are happy to be there. Peg comes across employees in her role at the Membership Desk who are not at the Arboretum because they have to be, rather, it is their choice to be. Peg has missed that part of her job during recent weeks while working from home.

Do you have a favorite location on the grounds or a favorite tree?

As is evident by the accompanying photo, Peg loves redbuds, especially one in her backyard that is a memorial tree for her father-in-law. Peg also enjoys Crabapple Lake in the spring, as well as the area at the top of the flowering trees collection, found on the path leading up to the Thornhill Education Center on the West Side. Both of these areas at the Arboretum provide a scenic view, and often Peg will find an opportunity during the day to take a folding chair she keeps in her car to one of those two areas for a brief respite.

What do you want visitors to know about The Morton Arboretum and the mission?

Most visitors do not realize how many employees it takes to maintain the Arboretum as an enjoyable, natural area that provides mental and physical health breaks and as a scientific and educational institution that collects and studies trees. The work is labor intensive, and she notes that the Arboretum doesn’t just happen on its own. She would also want visitors to know how much research goes on in our Center for Tree Science and the global impact that it has.

When thinking of the Arboretum’s Employee Core Values, which one resonates with you and why?

While she could give examples of how our staff have demonstrated all of our core values over the last few weeks, definitely Work(ing) Together has been essential for everyone. Peg’s team, along with other Arboretum teams, has been implementing a new point of sale system for membership, and it has been incredible to see how everyone has worked together to make this possible. Peg has also seen examples of her team looking out for the welfare of other team members and problem-solving together. It has been amazing for Peg to experience.

What’s an insider tip that you’d like to share with visitors?

Every visitor is able to find their own space to picnic and leave no footprint. In earlier years, the Arboretum had designated specific areas where picnicking was permitted, but now she encourages everyone to find their own spot and have a family snack. No grills permitted though!

Share an interesting fun fact about you:

Peg’s interests include anything outside. Water is her favorite place to be, either in it or on it, and she goes boating quite a bit to feed that desire. When it’s too cold to be in or on the water, Peg turns to snow and enjoys skiing on the mountains in Colorado. Peg enjoys gardening, reading, and just being with her family all together, which has been a great deal recently!

Katie Damato

Graphic Designer

What is your favorite season at the Arboretum and why?

Katie says there is something to love each season, even spring, despite her allergies. Ultimately, her favorite season is fall. Katie enjoys all of the different activities, the different colors, and the pumpkin display. When she drives through the East Woods in the fall, Katie feels like the trees are screaming yellow at her.

What is the best part of your job?

The variety of projects that Katie collaborates on makes it hard to be bored in her role. As a designer, she could be working on a number of various projects for any and all departments across the Arboretum from special events, development, education, and more. One of Katie’s annual tasks is designing the 10K material. For all other design assignments, she appreciates that she and her team get to take turns designing for exhibits and annual events.

Do you have a favorite location on the grounds or a favorite tree?

While there isn’t a specific tree, Katie does love beech trees in general, specifically the bark and the leaves, especially those in the Ground Cover Garden that cover the path. She found a weeping beech near one of the trolls, and she was able to completely immerse herself under the canopy, making it feel as if she was going into a fantasy land. Katie likes to pick random parking lots and go on the paths into the wild areas, where she can’t really tell she is in Lisle, Illinois.

What do you want visitors to know about The Morton Arboretum and the mission?

Especially since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Katie wants our visitors to know that we’re more than just a park. In fact, we’re not a park at all. There is more to the Arboretum than just Meadow Lake. The Arboretum does so much more than make a pretty place for people to visit. There are many opportunities to learn how you can improve your environment. As the saying goes: We’re More than a Walk in the Woods.

When thinking of the Arboretum’s Employee Core Values, which one resonates with you and why?

For Katie, that’s easy. Based on the nature of her job, trends and technology are always changing and she needs to Keep Learning to stay on top of it all. When Katie sees or learns of something new, she thinks about how she can apply that to what she does at the Arboretum. Katie just likes to learn as it is. Except for the homework, Katie misses college and being in classes. She appreciates that she can learn things outside of her job too that are essential.

What’s an insider tip that you’d like to share with visitors?

We’re more than Meadow Lake. Many visitors never leave P1 (parking lot). Katie recommends getting in your car and picking a random parking lot. There is always something to be found. She recommends picking one of the small gravel lots and following the paths that lead from there. Visitors may run across something they never would have expected. There is so much to explore; don’t stick to what you know.

Share an interesting fun fact about you:

Katie is crafty! She has a side job working at a Paper Source store, and she teaches watercolor and crafting classes to kids and adults. She also enjoys crocheting, but interestingly, she almost never finishes her own projects. She has a collection of half-finished hats, blankets, and other creations waiting to be completed. Katie’s skills extend to sewing as well, and she has been using that crafty talent recently to sew masks. And she has also been feeding her love of cooking, literally, trying out many new creations. No surprise though, Katie loves to cook, but hates to clean up. And when she’s not crafting, she is reading, and has a goal to read 35 books this year. The current shelter-in-place situation is helping her get closer to that goal.

Kimberlee Puccio

Gatehouse Attendant

What is your favorite season at the Arboretum and why?

Because we wait so long in Chicago for winter to be over, Kimberlee’s favorite season is summer. However, as an artist, she also enjoys fall with the colors and images it provides. Kimberlee enjoys taking photos during fall and turning them into paintings.

What is the best part of your job?

Kimberlee started her Arboretum career working at the membership sales desk, and then transitioned to her role in the gatehouse. She enjoys welcoming guests to the Arboretum and sharing the benefits of membership with new and repeat visitors. The gatehouse team is a dedicated team that relies on each other to give guests an extraordinary experience, and she values the hard work of her teammates. Kimberlee recognizes that she may be the only staff member visitors see if they never leave their car, and she is committed to giving them the best experience she can offer.

Do you have a favorite location on the grounds or a favorite tree?

A motto that Kimberlee shares with visitors who ask where they should go is, “ The West Side is the best side.” In spring and summer, Kimberlee loves the views and smells around Lake Marmo. To be fair to the East Side, Kimberlee also enjoys the views from the bench at the top of Frost Hill in fall. A Juniperus Virginiana ‘Taylor’ tree was dedicated to a long-time Arboretum gatehouse employee who passed away in 2019, and thus, is Kimberlee’s favorite tree.

What do you want visitors to know about The Morton Arboretum and the mission?

If visitors do not or cannot walk, the Arboretum is an outdoor tree museum and can be appreciated even from a vehicle. A simple drive through our grounds can provide a calm, peaceful experience. Kimberlee firmly believes the Arboretum is a healthy choice for families and a good place for mental health.

When thinking of the Arboretum’s Employee Core Values, which one resonates with you and why?

Without a doubt, Making the Arboretum Exceptional is an essential function of Kimberlee’s role at the gatehouse. She is committed to providing guests with an extraordinary experience, as efficiently and as kindly as possible. She recognizes the need to make the best use of time, as she sees guests for a limited and brief amount of time. As time permits, she regularly shares the benefits of a membership and alerts visitors to upcoming events, a skill that carries over from her early days working with the membership sales team.

What’s an insider tip that you’d like to share with visitors?

Not surprising, her insider tip relates to membership. Kimberlee regularly shares with our guests that a membership includes discounts in The Arboretum Store, access to members-only events, discounts on Illumination: Tree Lights at the Morton Arboretum, and builds a lasting relationship with the organization. She encourages visitors to sit and enjoy their time, to make meaningful connections with the grounds, events, and programs. And she doesn’t mind sharing that her favorite sandwich in the Ginkgo Café is the Portabella Mushroom burger, accompanied by a glass of apricot tea.

Share an interesting fun fact about you:

Kimberlee is a mural artist and painter. As an avid gardener, she enjoys creating beautiful landscapes in her backyard garden or, more recently, using her talents to sew face masks to share with health care workers and others in need. Kimberlee paints every day, whether it’s on a canvas or just her nails, and she is constantly looking to be part of the solution, in whatever way she can.

Carissa Dougherty

Head of Knowledge Management

What is your favorite season at the Arboretum and why?

Winter. Yes, winter is Carissa’s favorite season, because it is the time of year when she remembers to go outside more often. With fewer visitors and less foliage, Carissa can see further into the woods or glimpse footprints in the snow that she couldn’t otherwise with trees in full leaf. Winter in the woods has a different quality of light and the Arboretum landscapes have a distinct sense of calm during these more dormant months.

What is the best part of your job?

Carissa works with just about every person at the Arboretum in her role, and every day she is so impressed by the generosity, creativity, and sense of humor she sees among the staff. Each person embodies the Employee Core Values in a way that could not be mandated. The Arboretum would not be the same organization without all of these passionate people carrying out the mission.

Do you have a favorite location on the grounds or a favorite tree?

Out on a hill on the East Side, just past the Appalachian Collection, Carissa saw a coyote at the Arboretum for the first time early on in her employment, and that has stuck with her throughout the years. This remote area is not really highlighted on the map and there isn’t a lot of signage, but it has a more rugged, “wild” landscape than some of the other areas of the Arboretum. If she has a destination in mind on a lunchtime walk, it is the perfect distance where she can make it there and back with time to spare.

What do you want visitors to know about The Morton Arboretum and the mission?

As someone who leads initiatives that are not always forward-facing, Carissa would share that there is a lot going on behind the scenes that keeps the Arboretum functioning. From technology to accounting to staff engagement, everything that is done back-of-house makes it easier for the visitor-focused things to happen. Much of what our visitors see or experience couldn’t happen without the support of these employees!

When thinking of the Arboretum’s Employee Core Values, which one resonates with you and why?

Carissa’s role aligns under the Learning and Engagement Department and, as such, she also aligns with the Employee Core Value to Keep Learning. In her role, Carissa works to understand what we know, identify what we might still need to learn, and find new ways to share our knowledge with other people. She firmly believes that curiosity, intellectual humility, and the willingness to try new things will expand our perspective and improve the Arboretum’s ability to innovate into the future.

What’s an insider tip that you’d like to share with visitors?

Visitors don’t necessarily have to visit the Arboretum in person to be involved with our work to plant and protect trees. There are many digital resources available, including online courses, library resources, podcasts, and plant health care information… even a series of online graphic novels! Can’t come here in person to visit your favorite tree or plant? We have over 10,000 images of our collections available through both the Plant Clinic web pages or through ACORN, our special collections database.

Share an interesting fun fact about you:

Carissa is a practicing martial artist, with the coveted black belt certification. She took interest in this sport in college, and has found it to be a welcoming, inclusive community. When asked if a would-be burglar would regret targeting her, Carissa notes that her training isn’t all about aggression or fighting; rather, it is the art of self-control, discipline, and awareness of one’s body. “Arigatou Gozaimashita.” (translation: Thank You).

Dr. Sean Hoban

Tree Conservation Biologist

What is your favorite season at the Arboretum and why?

Sean had to ponder before naming spring as his favorite season. As a scientist, Sean enjoys searching for and finding the first ephemeral flowers (trout lily, spring beauty, trillium) in the woods, some of which will only last for a couple of weeks. But, other flowers will then appear after the first round has disappeared, and this happens several times during the start of spring. Sean has really developed an affinity for magnolias as well, and he eagerly waits each day for them to bloom and become aromatic. Spring has a lot happening and a lot to look forward to, and Sean finds that rejuvenating.

What is the best part of your job?

It is hard for Sean to pick just one aspect, so he broke it out into two answers. As it relates to his position, Sean is able to be intellectually curious about tree science, but it is not just about the facts. Sean’s work is designed to have an impact, and every day he tries to answer the question, “How can we better protect our trees?” This goal inspires Sean and keeps him going every day. As it relates to working at the Arboretum, Sean feels the people are amazing, scientists and other staff alike. Sean can say hello and have a conversation with everyone. Staff are aware of what is going on around the Arboretum, whether it is an exhibit or a tree planting, and everyone has the same excitement and passion for trees and takes notice of what is going on whether it is out in the collections or in the natural areas.

Do you have a favorite location on the grounds or a favorite tree?

Sean’s favorite location can be found on a bike ride in the East Woods, at the furthest point near Big Rock Visitor Station. At that spot, Sean feels that he is deep in a woods, even in suburbia. At that spot, he cannot hear or see roads, and he is impressed by the large tree trunks that one would see in a remote forest or woods. At that point, everything is quiet and Sean says to himself, “This is the woods. And this is the best job ever.” His favorite tree is a Tulip tree that is at the entrance of the Research Building that he passes every day. This gigantic tree is over 100 years old, and will likely live another 150 years. Sean enjoys the orange-yellow flowers in spring and the yellow leaves in fall; there is no other tree like it. And a new sapling has even sprung up right next to the existing tree.

What do you want visitors to know about The Morton Arboretum and the mission?

The Morton Arboretum is mission driven; not just a park. The Arboretum has one of the world’s largest and most scientifically useful collections of trees, and scientists come from all over the world to study our collections. The 200,000 catalogued plants from 4000 species are representative of global tree diversity, and our world class scientists work in and among these trees, and are always making discoveries.

When thinking of the Arboretum’s Employee Core Values, which one resonates with you and why?

Core values are important in all organizations, but when it comes to Keep Learning, Sean feels strongly about the fact that the Arboretum gives all employees the opportunity to do so. There is always new information to communicate, and new individuals to communicate to, so staff need to keep adapting to that new knowledge. As a scientist, it is naturally Sean’s passion to learn, but he sees it in all of the staff.

What’s an insider tip that you’d like to share with visitors?

Due to many years of collecting and curating, the Arboretum has six nationally accredited collections (oak, maple, crabapple, linden, magnolia, and elm), so visitors are not just seeing “elms,” they are seeing 50 to 100 different species of them. Sean encourages our visitors to go in these collections to see how different and weird each tree is, noting all the different leaf forms and the huge variety of shapes and sizes in each collection.

Share an interesting fun fact about you:

Sean bikes to work every day in every weather condition, unless it is unsafe to do so. Biking is a passionate hobby, and while a lot of individuals bike to work, they will drop off in winter or in the heat of the summer. Sean does it partially for exercise, partly because he shares a car with his spouse, but also because he is a conservationist. Biking to work is a small but important contribution to the planet, and the time outdoors also helps prepare him for the day ahead, and then relaxes him at the end of the day.

If you’d like to learn more about Sean and/or tree science at the Arboretum, Sean does science communication on Twitter @seanmhoban.

Zachary (Zack) Fisher

Horticulturist I

What is your favorite season at the Arboretum and why?

It’s no surprise that a staff member who primarily works outdoors would respond that fall is his favorite season. Zack feels the weather is perfect during the autumn months, and he enjoys seeing the changing colors of the trees. He does enjoy the bonfires in the winter when working on the winter clearing, and he also likes summer when the grounds are busier, but ultimately, fall would get his vote.

What is the best part of your job?

Without question, Zack believes that the best part of his job is working in such a beautiful place as the Arboretum. He has met some amazing people, and he appreciates the camaraderie of his Living Collections crew. His primary area of responsibility is in the China collection, and he doesn’t interact with too many visitors each day, so for Zack, having such great co-workers is important to his satisfaction in his job.

Do you have a favorite location on the grounds or a favorite tree?

Zack’s favorite area is the Spruce Plot near P11 on the East Side. It makes for a beautiful hike in the summer. As far as a favorite tree, Zack finds a bald cypress in his area to be particularly intriguing.

What do you want visitors to know about The Morton Arboretum and the mission?

One aspect that Zack believes visitors may not be aware of is the number of rare plants that we have in the collections, many of which are not on the main trails. The Arboretum’s curator participates in many seed collection expeditions in the United States and other countries, and those plants are then placed in our collections once they have had time to grow.

When thinking of the Arboretum’s Employee Core Values, which one resonates with you and why?

Zack ‘Keeps Learning’ because it keeps his job interesting. He is always learning about new plants that he comes in contact with every day, and he values learning about them by reading the tree tags or gaining more information about them online.

What’s an insider tip that you’d like to share with visitors?

The Sterling Morton Library is often overlooked, and Zack has enjoyed taking advantage of all the library has to offer. He has spent many a lunch hour in the May Watts Reading Garden, and using the resources of the library. There are many plant books that one would not find anywhere else.

Share an interesting fun fact about you:

At age 18, Zack decided to teach himself how to play the piano. Zack’s brother had been playing for years, and one day, Zack just decided he would give it a go, and has been playing ever since. He is drawn to classical music, and is a big fan of Chopin.