An enthusiastic problem solver, Vella King enjoys giving back through volunteering. She currently serves as Volunteer Coordinator for Secrest Arboretum’s Master Gardener Volunteer (MGV) program. In this role she aids Coordinator Paul Snyder with administering the Secrest MGV group.
Vella assists Paul by passing along information to MGVs, attending state coordinator meetings, entering data, managing the Secrest MGV database, and acting as Paul’s sounding board.
Concerning her value to the program, Paul comments, “Vella is very organized and is very good with technology, which is something the program requires. She creates reports using Hands on Connect, the Master Gardener Volunteer reporting system. Vella is always willing to lend a hand not only in this position but also volunteering to help lead tours and maintain the Secrest gardens. I could not manage the program without her!”
Secrest is not the only beneficiary of Vella’s actions, as she is a self-described multi-organization volunteer. When I interviewed her, she was in the process of contacting 836 past buyers for the Ashland County Junior Fair. Vella is in her thirty-fourth year of advising 4-H, has been a Youth Softball Coach, has served for 32 years as a Hillsdale FFA Alumni member, has served on the Ohio State Jr. Fair Poultry Committee, and has volunteered for many church committees and community activities. She states, “As long as I am physically and mentally able, I hope to continue to give back to my community whether it be locally or at the state level.” In addition, she is currently a member of the Hillsdale School Board. As a school board member, she has a passion “to make public education the best it can be.” Her sense of civic duty and volunteerism are inspired by her father who demonstrated the importance of giving back to Vella and her four brothers.
Vella grew up on her family’s 1½-acre property in Shelby, Ohio, where she remembers weeding her father’s vegetable gardens with her brothers. When the work was completed, they delighted in the cornstalk teepees he created for them. The family also raised chickens and had a pony. The value of preserving food was important to her father, and he taught her to can and freeze garden produce. In addition, she witnessed his involvement in many facets of the Shelby community. Because there were no sport venues for girls, her father established the Shelby Girls Softball Program so that Vella could participate.
Vella worked for Grange Insurance Company where she excelled as a technology specialist. As the insurance industry became computerized, Vella learned computer programming. From originally working on main frame computers to eventually mastering web design, she has always welcomed a challenge. When she retired, becoming a MGV was on her bucket list. Initially she went through the Richland County program, but when Secrest Arboretum revived its MGV program in 2016, Vella knew she wanted to be part of the unique program Secrest offers.
Through her participation in the program, she has gained knowledge on many topics including soil testing, raised beds, microclimates, zone adherence, and eliminating invasives. She applies what she has learned in her home gardens. Following a house fire in 2013, Vella and her husband David had to redesign the landscape and gardens. She has over 17 gardens on five acres containing perennials and edibles. Through trial and error and research, she continues to refine these spaces.
When asked what she is proudest of, the self-described tomboy answers, “My children and grandchildren.” Vella and David have two children, Jeremy and Jessica; and three grandchildren, Caleb, Gabe, and Julia.
Vella greets each day with enthusiasm hoping that something or someone will make her smile. Her enthusiasm and can-do attitude continue to benefit Secrest Arboretum.
--Pat Warner, Secrest Arboretum Master Gardener