Monthly Tree Ambassador

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

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Robb Telfer

Adult Learning Programs Assistant

What is your favorite season at the Arboretum and why?

Like many Arboretum staff members, Robb has favorite aspects of every season. During the fall, Rob likes to fill his pockets with acorns so he can grow trees at home or find somewhere else for them to be planted. He also admits that he sneaks into the paw-paw groves to eat the fruit that he calls the Indiana banana.

Robb enjoys summer on the prairie and cites winter as the prime time for doing habitat restoration because it’s easy to see the tangible difference your efforts are making. When it comes down to it though, Robb’s favorite season is spring.

After winter, he is so starved for flowers that when he begins to see spring take shape in the woodlands and notices the spring ephemerals emerge, he is drunk on their beauty. Robb notes that one of the best things about the Arboretum is that it is always different from day to day. A spot you visited yesterday will be different the next day. A new flower may be blossoming, you may see a new bug, or spot a new bird you may never have seen.

What is the best part of your job?

Robb appreciates the opportunity to be immersed in the beauty of the Arboretum and being absorbed in ideas and personalities. Over the past year, Robb has monitored over 50 Zoom classes through his role in adult education and, as a result, he now knows how to compost better, knows more about spring flowers, and understands why people do yoga. He states that learning happens just by being at the Arboretum. A new experience or idea will happen, you don’t have to plan for it.

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

Robb’s favorite tree is the maple-leaf oak (Quercus acerifolia), which unfortunately is not readily accessible to the public. This tree, near the berm where the troll Joe the Guardian used to be, is a rare oak tree. Robb’s mission when joining the Arboretum was to find out where he could find this kind of rare, insider information, so asked staff to show him to some of these locations. Even when you see it, you wouldn’t know it was special, it just looks like a maple tree. One really has to get close to see the variation on the leaves and to see that it has acorns too!

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

While the physical place of the Arboretum’s 1,700 acres is in Lisle, this past year has allowed so many more people to benefit from what the Arboretum has to offer without coming to the physical space. What entices people to sign up for classes is the mission and the people that believe in it, just as much as the location. Registrants are enrolling in classes because of who we are, not necessarily where we are. Many students would have never been able to attend classes before the Arboretum pivoted to offer more online courses over the past year. It demonstrates that people come together around the idea that trees are good, and that the Arboretum extends beyond the 1,700 acres.  

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

An employee shared a story with Robb when he was newly hired about one of the vice presidents cleaning up a disposable diaper he came across while walking in the woodlands. To Robb, that is symbolic of taking ownership, not only making the Arboretum exceptional but cleaner as well. Robb operates in the same manner in that if he sees garlic mustard, he will pull it. Or, if he sees something out of place, he will put it back. It’s these little gestures that our visitors may never know or see, but to Robb, he knows everyone is taking ownership.

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

On the south side of Lake Marmo, between late March to mid-April, visitors can see the skunk cabbage making its way out of the cold (and possibly snow). This plant creates heat, so when it pokes up through the snow, it melts the area around it. 

Share an interesting, fun fact about yourself:

Robb is a performance poet and, recently, has been teaching poetry workshops every other week via Zoom. He has performed in nine different countries, in most major cities in America and Canada, in coffeehouses, universities, bars, libraries, and even arboreta!  

 

Lucien Fitzpatrick

Research Assistant I

What is your favorite season at the Arboretum and why?

After giving it some thought, Lucien decided that spring is his favorite season because he enjoys watching the trees start to bud and develop for the season. Prepandemic, Lucien enjoyed arriving for work each morning and watching the trees change and begin to open and leaf out. Lucien also favors spring because he gets to work outside again, making him happier to come to work in better weather conditions. As someone whose role takes him outside, it would be hard for Lucien to pick winter as his favorite season. He does admit that fall is nice, but it is also busy and presents some challenges for him to get into the field to do his work.

What is the best part of your job?

Lucien has the ability to do many different things on any given day, and he has a variety of ways to engage with what he likes to do. He considers that variety to be by far the best part of his job. There are both physical and mental elements of his work; some days he may be writing code and some days he may be out in the field all day digging in the dirt, sanding tree cores, or dating trees. Lucien likes ecology because it takes different disciplines and brings them all together. At the Arboretum he engages with other scientists in those specialties.

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

While coming up with a favorite location is tricky, Lucien can say there is one certain tree that he pays attention to every time he’s in the East Woods. Unfortunately there is no tree tag or label to identify it, but this particular tree is bent sideways and growing completely horizontal and shoots are growing in straight lines up from the trunk. Lucien is fascinated watching what trees do under specific growing conditions; it’s a testament to how resilient trees can be. Lucien has an affinity for urban trees, and he has a place in his heart for any tree that is struggling to survive and is making it work. There is something very beautiful to Lucien when he sees life thriving in a difficult place.

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

Before joining the staff at the Arboretum, Lucien had a perception that each department worked independently of each other. He thought that grounds staff did grounds work, scientists did science, and front-facing staff did customer service. He quickly learned, and wants to share with our visitors, how integrated all of the departments actually are and how much they work together. For example, the grounds staff collect trees that he works with; and he recently just learned about some of our members’ perspectives about what they think the research program is doing, and how he can help to illuminate the importance of the work that is taking place at the Arboretum. As a lab that is focused on climate change, Lucien is working to create a holistic experience of these many aspects of the Arboretum.

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

When Lucien came to the Arboretum, he did so without much direct experience as a Research Assistant; his background was more in field work. It wasn’t until later in his career that he realized he wanted to get into this kind of science. So, for him, the Employee Core Value to Work Together has been important in creating a space in which he was not only encouraged, but expected, to ask any staff member or colleague what they were doing and why. Work(ing) Together creates a culture of staff being ready and available for any question that arises and to provide a thorough and real answer. This has been important for him in his growth as a scientist. As Lucien notes, scientists like to ask questions, and the Employee Core Values gives him the freedom to do just that.

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

When in a forest space, take dedicated moments to stop. Going for a walk in the woods is easy, but taking the time to really stop and experience the woods is another thing. Kids are naturally good at doing that, sometimes to the detriment of a good hearty walk. The tree Lucien mentioned in the East Woods is somewhat hidden, and he only noticed it because he was taking a break from his work and took in the sights around him. He has found that what is beautiful about trees and forests are the things he notices when pausing and staring in one direction for 10 or 15 seconds. We become accustomed to just seeing trees in general when we are in the forest. Lucien reminds visitors that it’s good to physically stop and look up.

Share an interesting fun fact about you:

Lucien is an avid ultimate frisbee player, having played all through college and even post-graduation. Prior to the pandemic, Lucien played in a league and hopes to return to that in the coming months. He describes ultimate frisbee as his preferred way to be outside, other than in the woods!

Kris Bachtell

Vice President of Collections and Facilities

What is your favorite season at the Arboretum and why?

Even though Chicago is known as the Windy City, Kris is not necessarily a fan of wind, and as such, his favorite season is fall, not just for the fall color and mild temperatures, but also because fall is typically not a windy season. Recent weather in the area substantiates Kris’s claims!

What is the best part of your job?

Not surprising, the best part of Kris’s job, as well as the best part about working at The Morton Arboretum, is his ability to learn more about plants every day. Because his role involves both grounds and strategic responsibilities, he has to work harder to stay in tune with the plants in the collection than he used to. He is observant of his environment, which still presents frequent opportunities for him to learn.

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

Asking the vice president of collections and facilities his favorite location or favorite tree is like asking a chef what their favorite food might be. While there are many, Kris noted a few of his top choices. One location is in the Maple Collection near an old building foundation on a little knoll that provides a great vista point. Another favorite is the Conifer Collection, often referred to as the pinetum. Some of Kris’s favorite views though are in the Korea Collection when looking north from the south over the large detention basin. This view is particularly nice when the mature Sargent’s cherries are in flower, as well as the view east from the bridge near Sterling Pond in fall. As far as trees go, one favorite of Kris’s is a Miyabe maple at the base of Joy Path that is the original source tree for the State Street clonal selection. And in staying true with one of his favorite collections, there is a large hybrid pine in the pinetum that he finds majestic.

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

Kris encourages visitors to appreciate the Arboretum for what the open space provides. The Morton Arboretum can be so many different things to a lot of different people. Visitors may appreciate it for the gardens or plants, the natural areas, and even the wildlife.

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

When The Morton Arboretum unveiled the Employee Core Values in 2019, Kris was tapped to speak on the value to Keep Learning. As a lifelong learner, Kris knows to keep his eyes and ears open, because even as he nears 40 years of employment at the Arboretum this November, he appreciates that he can learn something every day just by observing and seeing. Kris understands and has respect for what nature can do and appreciates that it is one of the great things about his profession.

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

While it may be harder to do these days with technology at our fingertips, Kris’s inside tip is a simple one; turn yourself ‘off’ and enjoy a walk in nature. For some little known facts, Barney Mills Road goes through the Heritage Trail on the East Side, and it used to lead to a sawmill that was down on the river. And for visitors near Lake Marmo, it’s interesting to note that Native American camps existed there prior to development of the area.

Share an interesting fun fact about you:

Kris’s interest in trees was spurred by his first-grade teacher, Mrs. Clayton, who every Friday would lead his class on a hike in the Thorn Creek Woods near Chicago Heights, mainly on a bird watching expedition, but it opened the door for Kris’s future career path. He visited The Morton Arboretum for the first time in eighth grade, when his brother-in-law was a graduate student working on white oak root systems and their symbiotic relationship with soil fungi with Dr. George Ware, the Arboretum’s former director of research. As a child, Kris would find himself climbing through the woods for hours, playing baseball in a prairie/oak savannah, and sledding in the Thorn Creek Woods, where it all started. In fact, Kris collected seeds from the redbuds in those woods and brought them to the Arboretum’s collections for study, preservation, and propagation. Kris was truly bred to be a tree champion.

Anne Klos

Human Resources Manager

What is your favorite season at the Arboretum and why?

Anne has waited a long time to be able to answer that question, so she could use the phrase “Fall of them!” While Anne has always loved fall, but since she has been working at The Morton Arboretum, she has a new appreciation for winter and the serenity of being outside during this underappreciated season.

What is the best part of your job?

Partnering with colleagues, not only within the Human Resources Department, but also with managers especially as we work together to make the Arboretum the best workplace it can be for staff. While Anne likes trees, she likes working with the humans, thus keeping the human in human resources.

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

It’s very difficult for Anne to select just one. The Spruce Plot is definitely on the top of her list, but in particular, there is a Norway spruce at top of Frost Hill on the Northern Illinois Trail near P3 that seems to be reaching out its branches to hug her. It gives Anne the feeling that instead of her being a tree hugger, the tree is hugging her.

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

While it’s likely been said before, Anne wants people to know that the Arboretum has so many experts in their respective fields, and the staff and visitors can learn from them. It’s likely that the general population doesn’t know how much research is truly taking place; many think we’re just a walk in the woods.

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

Without a doubt, Anne especially relates with the Employee Core Value to make the Arboretum exceptional, because the level at which the Arboretum operates is so high. Maybe at other places in the world, good is acceptable, but the Arboretum is always striving for and providing that higher level of exceptionality. The Arboretum is a good fit for Anne because she tends to set high standards for herself, as well.

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

As a walking enthusiast, Anne recommends that visitors come early to walk the grounds. Each day before Anne settled into her office, she would take a morning stride around the grounds. While others may be looking for the peaceful settings in this early hour, Anne likes seeing the Arboretum come to life. Anne feels that this is when all the magic is happening; the horticulturists are making the Arboretum look exceptional, and the humming of the blowers and equipment is soothing to her.

Share an interesting fun fact about you:

Using her psychology degree, Anne has self-diagnosed herself as addicted to nature. She can’t go a day without being outside, even in these frigid temperatures. Don’t get her wrong though, she also loves being outside in warmer climates, especially at the beach. Family is very important to her, and pre-COVID she enjoyed spending time with extended family and convening for weekly family dinners. She looks forward to gathering with her family again in the hopefully near future.

Patricia (Patty) Arend

Development Coordinator, Operations

What is your favorite season at the Arboretum and why?

Patty likes them all, because she likes change, but if she had to pick just one, it would be spring. Patty enjoys the additional sunlight and the longer days, and spring provides more energy for her than the other seasons. As an avid walker though, winter is one of her favorite times to hike at the Arboretum, enjoying the peace that winter brings.

What is the best part of your job?

Patty’s role is making sure money from memberships and donations to the Arboretum is reported accurately, working closely with the staff in the Business Office. Patty appreciates that on a daily basis she gets to see how many loyal and generous donors and members the Arboretum has. Patty feels good to be working at a place of which she is proud.

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

Her favorite location is really more of a route that encompasses her favorite walking path starting at P8 on the East Side, going through the Spruce Plot and heading over to the East Woods to walk the Woodland Trail. There is a flagstone bench in the Spruce Plot where she will often find words made of pine cones or leaves.

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

Patty feels there is always more that she can learn about the Arboretum and its mission. In particular, she would like visitors to understand that it’s not just a pretty place to come and be with nature. The research work being done at the Arboretum is valuable, and everyone can play a part to plant and protect trees. There is more to the Arboretum than just great events, such as Illumination.

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

Patty was part of the committee that was key in helping to shape the Employee Core Values as we know them today, so she has intimate knowledge behind their meaning. Which one specifically resonates with her though does change from time to time, depending on her role at the time. Right now, keep learning is top of mind as the Development team is migrating to a new Constituent Relationship Management (CRM) system. Patty is being challenged to learn the new system and new ways to do things. All of the values are important, but right now, she is focused on keeping learning.

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

Come to the Arboretum early! Patty has been there at times when she has not seen another individual except for the gatehouse staff member. In those early hours, a person can feel like you have the place to yourself and you are the only person there on 1,700 acres.

Share an interesting fun fact about you:

As a walking enthusiast, Patty decided that she was going to walk all of the Arboretum’s wood-chipped trails in 2020, which she completed in December. This year, she’s decided that she is going to walk all of the trails in all four seasons. Good luck Patty!