The 2021 RIWPS volunteer awards were announced at the March 13, 2021 Annual Meeting.

Lifetime Service Award: Carl Sawyer

While the specific date when Carl Sawyer joined RIWPS long is hard to recall (sometime in the early 80’s) his unflagging service in the organization is not.

RIWPS has long benefited from his vast knowledge and experience. Carl credits his interest in the conservation of native plants and salt marsh ecology to when he worked as a research associate in URI’s Agricultural Experiment Station. His office was next door to Dr. Stuckey’s, who at that time was conducting research on forage and pasture restoration. She was one of very few women agronomists and was very interested in Rhode Island’s native and naturalized plants.

For years, RI Department of Transportation funded the Agricultural Experiment Station to study roadside seed mixtures and soil amendments. Carl recounts how he and Dr. Stuckey, would drive the roads collecting data. She would tell him where to pull over and then bound out of the truck and over the guard rail to point out unusual plants. URI Botany Professor Elmer Palmatier, was also an inspiration for Carl’s interest.

RIWPS is honoring Carl for his countless hours of service. He has lead walks in meadows and salt marshes, run workshops on plant, including identification of invasives. He has worked from sun up to sun down making the plant sales run smoothly. Tents, chairs, tables appeared and disappeared with Carl’s tireless efforts. Plants arrived from nurseries and greenhouses in the back of his truck. Overstock went back the same way. Need a place to park at RIWPS events? Just follow Carl’s flag. Those of us in RIWPS who have been lucky enough to deal with Carl know what Dr. Stuckey saw in him — a kind, knowledgeable, reliable, and invaluable friend.

Volunteer of the Year Award: Sherry Dzamba & Melissa Hughes

Sherry has been a loyal member of the Seed Starters East group for several years. She has also donated plants for our plant sales and worked the day of the sale.

This year RIWPS had the opportunity to install pollinator gardens at two locations that are part of the Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park.  In April after meeting with the Rangers at the Captain Wilbur Kelly House Transportation Museum in Cumberland, Sherry volunteered to take the lead working through designs for the garden and selecting appropriate species.  Sherry and a few volunteers from the Seed Starters East installed 160 native plants. For the rangers who would educated visitors to the garden, she provided diagrams with the placement of each plant and spreadsheet of the plant species.

After hearing of this pollinator garden, the Ranger at the Roger Williams National Memorial in downtown Providence contacted Sherry about having a pollinator garden there. Again Sherry met with the head ranger at the site, then designed and selected species. 170 native plants were installed. Both gardens serve to educate hundreds of tourists and local Rhode Islanders about the value of native plants.This spring Sherry will head up a small group of volunteers who will maintain both gardens.


Last year when the decision was made to hold the plant sale online, Sally Johnson, who had volunteered to head up the online store for the sale was in much need of someone who knew more than she did about how this could be done. She reached out to Melissa as Melissa had checked the box on her membership form saying she might be interested in helping with data “stuff”.  Turns out Melissa had a whole career in data administration.  As Sally commented, “Jackpot”.

And Melissa was much more than a data scientist.   She was a willing, cheerful collaborator helping out with simple tasks, any many were very, very labor intensive, and then figuring out solutions as the needs arose. We might have been able to hold a plant sale last year without her but it would not have been easy. She made it easy and fun.

See previous award winners