For more than a decade, Janet Winkler has led hospitality inside Mercer’s volunteer cottage, welcoming volunteers and ensuring they received quality meals during large events. Originally though, Winkler started out in a much different role. Winkler first came to Mercer in 2005 to take the Master Gardener class with her husband Louis, and eventually the Texas Gulf Coast Gardening class.

“I always wanted to learn about gardening beyond just the basics,” she said. “When my husband retired, we had the opportunity to take the class together, so our gardening wouldn’t just be hit and miss.” The class required the couple to contribute volunteer hours. At first, they helped tend vegetables in the garden. But when Mercer’s regular hospitality volunteer fell ill, the two assumed new leadership roles. Soon the couple was preparing snacks for volunteers during special events and grilling hamburgers during monthly Lunch Bunch meetings. “Janet is a dynamo in the gardens,” said Volunteer Coordinator Suzzanne Chapman. “She headed hospitality for all events from 2005 to 2015.

With her husband Louis, and other volunteers, they grilled outdoors, made desserts, prepared delicious refreshments, purchased supplies, and many other tasks for Mercer’s events. Her son and granddaughters also volunteered at Mercer.” As her responsibilities grew, Winkler made sure she purchased items that not only tasted good, but would also leave volunteers feeling good. “I really tried to find out what the volunteers liked and then catered to them,” she said. “They don’t have to volunteer, so I think they deserve it. I try to make special items for people with dietary restrictions. I look for items that are tasty and nutritious.” The class also gave Winkler the confidence to develop a large garden like the one from her childhood. “When I would visit my grandma, I would always walk around her flowerbeds and her gardens while she told me their names. I was always fascinated by them. She dug most of them out of ditches during her walks.”

Today Winkler’s garden is a work of art that has served her family for events including her son’s wedding and mother’s 90th birthday party. She’s also passed on her love of gardening to her own grandchildren, Rebecca and Katie, who also volunteer at Mercer. “We swap plants and enjoy gardening together,” she said. “I’m proud of my garden now. I love showing it off whenever I get a chance.” Despite her passion for gardening, Winkler has had to take a break from Mercer after her husband’s knee surgery. “We’ve enjoyed our time so much there and we hope to get back out there soon,” she said. “I’m interested in seeing how everything comes together.”