HIGDEN — Flowers and plants will soon surround Mary Howard’s lakeside home near Higden. With ice still on the ground just a few weeks ago, Howard said, she is anxious to start her gardening efforts.
She will likely be seen with her fellow Master Gardeners, too, as they begin their ongoing efforts to beautify Cleburne County.
As a Master Gardener, Howard, 69, logged in more than 200 hours of service last year. For those efforts, she has been named the 2013 Cleburne County Master Gardener of the Year.
“I was shocked to pieces. There are a lot of other people more worthy than I am,” Howard said.
“Last year, Mary worked on many, many projects in our county,” said Michelle Mobley, staff chairwoman of the Cleburne County Cooperative Extension Service, which sponsors the Master Gardener program locally. “She is a very deserving lady that is always going above and beyond.”
Howard said the Master Gardeners “have many projects over the county. Most of the projects are continued year to year, but some are special-event projects that may take only a few workdays.
“I teach garden design and am a helper to other teachers, who are Master Gardeners, in the Junior Master Gardeners project at Westside Elementary School,” she said. “We work with fifth- and sixth-graders once a month.”
Other projects that Howard worked on last year include planting and maintaining about 45 planters that decorated the Greers Ferry Dam site during the 50th celebration of the dam’s dedication; maintaining the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers’ planters at campsites around Greers Ferry Lake; plantings at the Quitman City Hall and Park, as well as planters in the downtown area; and participating in an FFA judging competition held in Conway.
“There are at least 30 school districts from various parts of the state that attend this competition,” Howard said. “Our group tests the students on plant identification, nursery/landscape supplies and equipment, diseases and disorders of plants, reading a product label and reading landscape design drawings.”
She also works in the horticulture building during the Cleburne County Fair and helps maintain the lawn of the Cleburne County Historical Society in Heber Springs.
Howard joined the Cleburne County Master Gardeners in 2007 at the request of her neighbor, Alice George. Master Gardeners attend classes during which they receive 40 hours of training on a variety of topics. Following the training, they are required to log in at least 20 hours a year of work in the community.
Howard has also served as secretary of the Cleburne County Master Gardeners for the past two years.
She said she had to wait until she retired before she could become active in such groups as the Master Gardeners.
“I retired five years ago from teaching,” she said. “I taught for a total of 18 years.” Her last teaching position was that of math teacher at Nemo Vista High School.
Howard also worked for 11 years for Josten’s Learning Corp., which dealt with developing curriculum for kindergartners through 12th-graders nationally.
Howard grew up in Lonoke and graduated from Lonoke High School. She attended college “much later,” she said, graduating from the University of Central Arkansas in 1978 with a math degree in education.
“I had children by then and had to study late at night,” she said with a laugh. “There were a group of us married women who went back to school, and we carpooled from Lonoke to Conway.”
Howard and her husband, Hershel, who is retired from Remington Arms in Lonoke, have four children and six grandchildren.
Son Randy and his wife, Penny, live in Higden. He is a truck driver, and she teaches in the Guy-Perkins School District.
Daughter Janey and her husband, Jim Jenkins, live in Hazen, where they have a flea market.
Daughter Karen and her husband, Shawn Bryan, live in Cabot with their children: Caleb, 19, who attends Arkansas State University at Jonesboro; Alison, who is a sophomore at Cabot High School; and Hunter, who is in first grade at Cabot. Karen teaches at Cabot, and Shawn trains pilots.
Daughter Tracy and her husband, J.D. Buffalo, live in Cabot with their children: Jett, who is a senior at Cabot High School; Blake, who is a sixth-grader at Cabot; and Garrett, who is a third-grader. Tracy is a registered nurse, and J.D. owns an insurance agency.
The Howards attend First Baptist Church Sugarloaf in Higden.
The Howards’ decision to retire to Higden revolved around their history.
“When we were young and the kids were growing up, the Sugar Loaf area was our favorite campsite of all on the lake,” she said. “We bought a place and spent our weekends there for a number of years.
“Then [Hershel] decided that he wanted to retire here. I said OK, but I told him I wanted to live right on the lake, and that’s where we are.”
Hershel enjoys woodworking and has built a number of cedar planters for Mary’s flowers. His cedar creations can also be found on their deck that overlooks Greers Ferry Lake.
Mary said her favorite flower is the iris. She has planted irises in several locations around her house.
“They all bloom at different times,” she said.
As far as a favorite plant, she does not have one, she said.
She likes all things green.