Blooming Volunteer

Retirement from Washington High School didn’t leave Carolyn Gildehaus wondering what she was going to do with her spare time.

Since her retirement in 2002, Gildehaus has flourished in combining her love of teaching and gardening to continue to help others.

Gildehaus, 65, grew up in Washington and graduated from Washington High School — the same school where she spent 27 years teaching home economics. When she began teaching, she was one of three home economics teachers who worked with students on child development, cooking, sewing, human relations and other life skills.

“I really liked the students,” she said. “That was the driving force behind it all.”

Gildehaus attended the University of Missouri-Columbia for her education degree with a minor in science. Because of her background, she also taught high school science for about 10 years, at the same time as she was teaching home economics.

“Talk about a lot of (class) preparation,” she said half-jokingly.

Shaw Nature Reserve

Shortly before her retirement in 2001, Gildehaus began volunteering for Shaw Nature Reserve, which combines her background in science and education.

Gildehaus works with the education staff at the reserve where she leads elementary-aged students on themed nature walks.

There is a set concept each month and a curriculum for each concept, Gildehaus explained.

“There are a lot of activities. It’s things you wish you could do while you were teaching, but you don’t have the time or the money,” she said.

Students hike, and as “scientists” take a sampling of an area. They also look for rotting logs to explore and see what critters are living there and decomposing it.

“We’ve found snakes, lizards and salamanders,” she said, as well as many different types of bugs.

In another lesson, children use homemade nets to catch macro invertebrates, then use micro viewers to look at the specimen. Older children use a plant or animal key to identify the species.

Gildehaus said it initially was a challenge to learn to work with younger students, but one that she enjoyed.

Younger students are more enthusiastic, Gildehaus said. High school students are more laid back.

Gildehaus spends one day per week, usually Wednesdays, at the reserve.

“I feel like I’m contributing a little bit. So many of the kids who come out don’t have outdoor experiences anymore,” she said.

The Missouri Botanical Garden honored Gildehaus for her volunteer work in 2005.

Gildehaus said the reserve is always looking for more volunteers.

Garden Club

Gardening runs in the family, as Gildehaus’ mother, Annette Horn, also is a gardener. Horn invited her daughter to a Washington Garden Club meeting and after attending, she was hooked.

The club meets once each month and usually features a speaker.

The group weeds and cleans the Lafayette Plaza Park in Downtown Washington weekly during growing season, as well as other small gardens in Washington.

“My favorite thing is when we go on field trips,” she said.

The group has been behind the scenes at the St. Louis Zoo, where members saw greenhouse plantings, as well as a bulb farm, nurseries, country clubs and more.

Gildehaus said she grew up around gardening and enjoys growing and canning tomatoes, corn, beets and other vegetables, as well as growing lettuce and spinach, herbs, perennial and annual flowers.

She maintains a big garden at her home with the help of her husband, Kenny Gildehaus.

The couple have two children, Jennifer Joerling and Tim Gildehaus, who also have an interest in gardening.

“My yard is pretty much my project,” she said. “There’s always more (to work on).”

When temperatures are nice, Gildehaus will spend all morning outside in her garden.

“I like outdoors, open spaces,” she said. “I like to see the colors.”

Her favorite flower is a knockout rose, which she said is easy to take care of and beautiful.

Gildehaus said she enjoys the diversity of the garden club, which has about 50 members.

Hospital Volunteer

Gildehaus’ love of flowers and gardening also has spread to patients at Mercy Hospital Washington. Through a florist friend, Sylvia Czeschin, Gildehaus began volunteering to make flower arrangements to sell in the hospital gift shop.

“I love it. It’s very fun working with live flowers,” she said.

Flowers are ordered from St. Louis and arranged at the hospital. Gildehaus volunteers about once or twice each month.

“It feels very creative (making floral arrangements),” she said. “You can try things out and make different arrangements, and I always like to think that maybe somebody will send this to a friend’s room and it will brighten their day.”

Gildehaus was recognized for 500 hours of service in 2009.

Other Involvement

Gildehaus doesn’t only fill her spare time with gardening and plants, though. She also is involved in the Franklin County Public School Retirees group, which includes teachers and support staff. She attends monthly meetings with speakers, as well as Lobby Day at the state Capitol in Jefferson City each February.

During Lobby Day, teachers with the Missouri Retired Teachers Association have the opportunity to meet with state representatives on school-related issues. Gildehaus serves as the membership chairman and writes a quarterly newsletter. She also has served as vice president and secretary for the group.

She was selected as retired teacher of the year from Franklin County around 2005.

Gildehaus enjoys many hobbies, including creating stained glass and making scarves, as well as other projects. During family get-togethers, Gildehaus organizes a craft for herself, daughters and granddaughters to work on.

She took up yoga about five years ago.

“I really like yoga, and I think it’s given me a lot of inspiration,” she said. “I think it really helps aches and pains and Nabi Ota (the instructor) has a very good philosophy.”

She also loves reading and walking.

“I enjoy keeping a busy lifestyle,” she said. “I sometimes think of taking on more.”