CNPS attracts special people who care about things larger than themselves and appreciate realms outside of this human one. Our CNPS East Bay Chapter board attracts special people who also have time to devote to advancing the chapter’s goals of protecting native plants and sharing knowledge and enthusiasm for our flora with others. Our chapter has been extraordinarily fortunate to benefit from the talents, energy, and commitment of many wonderful board members, and we’re taking this opportunity to recognize and thank those who are moving on but made an enormous difference through their service.
Delia Taylor—wow! She matches our organization exceptionally well with her enthusiasm for native plants in the wild and in the garden, conservation advocacy based on science, and commitment to building a fellowship of native plant lovers. Over the last 20 years or so she has been an integral part of the heart and soul and brains of our chapter. She served as board president and vice president and also as chair of the Membership and Development committees.
In 2006, Delia was named statewide CNPS Volunteer of the Year, in part for her Membership Committee chair accomplishments. She spread the word about CNPS and brought in many new members through her creative hard work tabling at our regular outreach events such as the Solano Stroll and the Bringing Back the Natives Garden Tour, and she also sought out many other new venues.
Did we mention that her garden has been on the Bringing Back the Natives Garden Tour? And that as an active volunteer at Native Here Nursery she created and staffed the children’s activity table for our Plant Fairs? And when state CNPS Board and Chapter Council meetings have been held locally, Delia often led and always joined the team making all local arrangements? And initiated, organized, and then hosted memorable East Bay Chapter Volunteer Appreciation events? And roped in others to help her clean out the chapter storage shed at Native Here Nursery? And raised tens of thousands of dollars by composing compelling fundraising narratives and cultivating and retaining donors through her strong interpersonal skills? These form just a subset of her accomplishments and contributions.
On a personal note, what I appreciate most about Delia is her generosity in providing insights, and her high standards and emphasis on collaboration.
Did I mention that in late 2020 Delia chaired our chapter’s Nominating Committee for new officers? This is another exemplary contribution that demonstrates the theme of Delia’s involvement in our chapter: building our organization.
We will miss Delia’s leadership and insight. Though she seems irreplaceable, she has, in a sense, ensured that she will be replaced through the strong foundation she has built for our chapter. We are so grateful she chose CNPS East Bay to work with over the years.
— Sally de Becker, President, CNPS East Bay Chapter
In 2005, a dozen or so volunteers, including Clara Gerdes, began the ongoing campaign in Reinhardt Redwood Regional Park to remove French broom (Genista monspessulana). I got to know Clara on these weeding forays, where we often talked about native flora that could reclaim the parks, but also how and where to plant natives in the backyard.
We continued our friendship on more than a monthly basis when I started restoration weeding at Huckleberry Botanic Regional Preserve; Clara was one of the first volunteers. She continues to pull Genista at both regional parks and even increased her commitment after retiring from Charles Schwab. In the interstices of weeding and travel, Clara also served as the corresponding secretary for the CNPS East Bay Chapter for the past seven years.
Clara brought her considerable business and human resources skills to her corresponding secretary position. Not only did she meticulously track and answer chapter correspondence and donations, she also helped develop and distribute fundraising materials for our chapter’s conservation program. The chapter benefitted greatly from her human resources expertise when we reviewed and more thoroughly defined the scope of our conservation analyst position. Clara’s contributions in this area have allowed our East Bay chapter to proceed with more effective conservation work than an entirely volunteer committee could have managed.
Now that Clara has turned over the chapter mailbox to her successor, weed removal and restoration have occupied more of her free time. Removal of invasive thistle species gained her attention even before she took on the corresponding secretary job. Even as she pulls up invasive Italian and milk thistles (Carduus pycnocephalus and Silybum marianum, respectively) on the Oakland side of the hills, Clara is also on the lookout in later spring for the magenta involucres of our lovely native Venus thistle (Cirsium occidentale var. venustum).
Urban landscapes, especially architecture, matter to Clara almost as much as our public open spaces. With a vigor like her weeding, she follows various development proposals in Oakland. She tries to ensure that developments remain proportional to their area and she works to stop the loss of urban open spaces.
Somewhere in the between time, Clara also gardens a compact landscape at her home in north Oakland. She brings her architectural eye to introduction of California natives into her urban garden.
We know Clara will continue making a difference for native plants, and we thank her for sharing her exceptional skills, experience, enthusiasm, and great good humor as a member of our chapter board.
—Janet Gawthrop, Field Trips Committee Chair, CNPS East Bay Chapter
Joe and Doris Willingham
While Joe Willingham was the official editor of our CNPS East Bay chapter’s Bay Leaf newsletter for many years, those in the know knew there were actually two editors: Joe and his wife, Doris. There were a number of steps in the editing process, ending when assistant editor David Margolies joined Joe and Doris at their house. Together they would create the layout for each monthly issue. And then in true, generous Willingham style, those editing evenings would end with a late and delicious dinner prepared by Doris. Perhaps the greatest loss in converting the Bay Leaf from paper to digital was the end of the monthly volunteer “mailing parties” at Joe and Doris’s house to attach address labels to 1,000 paper copies of the newsletter. Those gatherings were full of warmth, camaraderie, laughter, special food and wine, and our hosts’ open-hearted and welcoming generosity.
In 2005, two years after Joe became Bay Leaf editor, he brought our chapter’s work to a much larger audience by creating the chapter website and later a website for Native Here Nursery. Most people do not realize that Joe also handled web-based services for the chapter for many years, contracting with service providers, setting up and dealing with email accounts, and troubleshooting problems. Joe looked for good deals, many of which were from companies in Eastern Europe and countries of the former Soviet Union. A portion of editing meetings always included vivid descriptions of problems that came up in dealing with vendors many thousands of miles away.
Editing the Bay Leaf may have been the last formal task Joe and Doris did for the chapter, but they were active members for many, many years. Joe joined the East Bay chapter’s board of directors in 1989, and over the years held more than a dozen chapter board positions, including rare plant chair, chair of local conservation issues, and for several years chapter president and vice president. He also served on the Chapter Council in 2004-2005, following state legislation and playing a key role in hiring now-retired state CNPS lobbyist Vern Goehring.
Joe ran a landscaping business and thus knew a great deal about plants and gardening. This is reflected in Joe and Doris’s spacious and beautiful garden filled with many interesting plants, including many natives. In his professional capacity, Joe used California natives in his clients’ gardens, helping to spread the word about the beauty and importance of native plants in home gardens.
Joe came from Georgia, from a traditional Southern family, and Doris grew up in Germany, but they adapted well when they moved to Berkeley. They follow local politics and enjoy listening to broadcast city council meetings, even though they don’t always agree with the views expressed by members of the council. However, they always have kind words for city employees they come in contact with, occasionally including police officers or firefighters (their house was partially destroyed by fire once).
Joe received statewide CNPS’s highest honor in 2017 when he was named a CNPS Fellow. This award recognizes his devotion to our chapter and to the mission of CNPS as a whole, and his extraordinary achievements in advancing the cause, always with Doris’s significant behind-the-scenes contributions. Doing the tasks Joe and Doris so capably but quietly accomplished now requires the efforts of several volunteers, a testament to the Willinghams’ skill and devotion. While we miss their talents, warmth, and enthusiasm on the board, they and their contributions are always front of mind as we continue the important work they started.
— David Margolies, Treasurer, and Sue Rosenthal, Bay Leaf Editor, CNPS East Bay Chapter