Jackie Urkoski is the new Executive Director of the Nebraska Statewide Arboretum.  She currently resides in Lincoln and is married with three young children.  Jackie was born and raised in Crofton, Nebraska, and has had a lifelong love for nature, landscapes and the outdoors.  Growing up next to Gavins Point Dam, Lewis and Clark Lake and the Missouri River helped to instill in her, at a young age, a love for the great outdoors and all of its beauty.  Jackie also spent a lot of time gardening with her parents and reflects on this time and how it has affected her as an adult...

I have so many fond memories of my childhood, and all of these memories collectively have shaped the way I feel about landscaping today.  I remember running through the tall stalks of corn my dad grew as he reminisced about all of his years farming with Grandpa.  I recall the miserable feeling of being attacked by a swarm of mosquitoes as we lifted up the leaves in our strawberry patch, but how it was worth it after one sweet bite into that strawberry.  I think back to how the huge rhubarb leaves made a perfect hiding spot during a game of hide and seek at dusk.  Many times my cousin and I had long serious talks over a snack (as serious as 7 year olds can be),  while sitting in the garden digging peas out of the pods.   As I walked home from school, I remember being filled with pride every time I got that first glimpse of our house. 

My mom had an area on the east side of the house that was filled with bright fragrant flowers of all kinds and beautiful green plants.  It was like that area made our house shine bright in comparison to the rest of the houses around it.   I was always happy to sit next to Mom and watch her take care of this landscape and listen to her as she talked about why it was important that we take care of our yard and the land around us.  In coming full circle, I realize now she was talking about sustainable landscaping, in a sense, and in a way in which she knew best.  It was just a small area, but it was within our boundaries and therefore our responsibility.  And it was created and maintained so everyone could enjoy it—from her own children to the neighbors to the random passersby. 

Our neighbors had a beautiful white magnolia tree in their backyard.  It was old and big.  As a child, it was one of my most favorite things in the whole world.  My cousins and I would spend so much time in this tree.  It was our meeting point… our scheming point, if you will.  This is where we came up with some of our best ideas, like how to surprise attack our siblings with the water balloons we had just filled. 

One day, we had a visitor.  He was in our grade and we had known him a long time.  He was always up for a dare, like the time he pulled the fire alarm at school.  On this particular day, we dared him to climb our old magnolia friend to the top.  Because we were so well acquainted with this tree, we understood that as you climbed higher, the branches became weaker.  This didn’t faze him.  He took the dare and started climbing.  He climbed higher and higher and higher, and then stopped climbing and froze.  He realized in that moment how high he was and had not a clue how he was going to get down.  The branches were getting weaker and he was starting to tremble.  We realized at this point that the dare wasn’t such a good idea.  About an hour later, with a crowd of about 10 people under the tree, our friend was safe and back on the ground.  Later that week, I looked out my backdoor and noticed some men with chainsaws standing below my favorite tree.  Our neighbors had decided enough was enough.  I stood there and cried as I watched them cut down all of the low branches on my favorite climbing tree. 

As kind as my neighbors were, they broke my heart.  As an adult, I look back at that incident with a new perspective.  I understand now the liability issues that come along with letting a group of young kids climb your tree every day.  At the time, I didn’t see it like that.  A lot of experiences I had as a child sculpted my mindset as an adult, as I’m sure is the case for many people.  My childhood experiences taught me a very important lesson:  we are responsible for taking care of and protecting the beauty around us.  If we don’t, who will?  I have encountered many different types of people through my years and have realized that there are a lot of people out there who don’t put a thought into the natural beauty around us.  Some will remove trees simply because they don’t want to rake in the fall, other people will make no effort to landscape around their business and then complain about flood damage from the heavy rains, and yet others are determined they want a green yard, at whatever the expense of the amount of water, pesticides and fertilizers it may take. 

What we do as individuals affects our communities as a whole – both negatively AND positively.  We must all come together to educate and  make a statement that sustainable landscaping is important and it affects everyone, for what we do goes far beyond our own backyard.  We must come together and educate our friends, neighbors and cities.   We at NSA are here to encourage you and support you in continually finding ways to improve the landscapes around us.  We are a small office, with few people, but we are strong in our representation because of members like you.  Through you, we can make a difference.  We can protect those landscapes we find so precious and create new ones.  We can teach other people through our affiliate sites what it means to create something sustainable… to create something that not only makes the places in which we dwell more attractive, but contributes to energy savings and protects against flood damage, to name just a few benefits.   We care deeply about these things and that means we have to continue to work together, in our grass roots efforts, to impact the state in which we live.

I want to take this moment to thank YOU for all that you have done in supporting the NSA.  We are unique in the nation in that we are the only state to host a statewide arboretum.  In true Nebraskan fashion, we have created something based on hard work, teamwork and desire.   And we want to say THANK YOU for your support, whether this is through a membership, involvement in a community project or through a donation.  We pride ourselves in not only being a network of places, but a network of people.  We are a nonprofit that relies solely on memberships, grants and donations and it is because of people like you that we are able to continue making an impact.  I am looking forward to getting to know each of you.  Feel free to email, call or stop in for a visit.  My door is always open.  In the meantime, keep up the great work you are doing—planting, sustaining, educating.  And again, THANK YOU for your efforts and support! 

Jackie Urkoski