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Mercer Volunteer Spotlight: Gudrun Opperman Bookmark

Mercer Volunteer Spotlight: Gudrun Opperman

Gudrun Opperman remembers the excitement of sharing new native plants with the public at March Mart.

Gudrun Opperman remembers the excitement of sharing new native plants with the public at March Mart.

“My background was in botany, so it wasn’t a surprise that I gravitated to native plants,” said Gudrun. “Back then, native plants weren’t as popular. I had the pleasure of introducing many people to them while at Mercer.”

By the time she started volunteering at Mercer in 1986, March Mart was already more than a decade old. Opperman had recently moved to Texas from West Virginia, and was eager to start volunteering. When an article about Mercer in a local newspaper caught her eye, Opperman knew she had to visit.

“I’ve always loved plants. I was working on my masters in botany when we moved. I never got to finish, but I found my way to Mercer anyway.”

Since then, Opperman has developed a reputation among local gardeners for her love of native plants. Some of her most cherished roles include working as a public speaker, volunteer coordinator, TMS board member, and TMS president. But she’s perhaps best known for creating the March Mart model with Cathi Cannon in the early ‘90s “Cathi had the business knowledge, and I had the plant knowledge,” she said. “Together, we came up with the plan.”

In the past, the sale was treated as one large event with one leader and many helpers. When production plateaued, the pair had to get creative. Since Mercer staff could not help grow any of the plants sold through the nonprofit, the pair devised a way to use the volunteers they had more effectively. They decided to set up a committee system that divided plants into groups such as gingers, trees and shrubs, shade plants, and more.

Opperman also worked to computerize all March Mart inventory and developed informational plant signs with photographs to entice buyers. “The fundraiser went from earning about $25,000 annually to $250,000,” she said. “We had committee heads and they were able to recruit more people to help grow plants,” she recalled. “We were able to produce more that way.”

The new arrangement also streamlined setup and organization. Shoppers could locate their plants of choice easier in each section and speak directly to the volunteers who knew about the plants in their area.

Today, March Mart has settled into one of the Gulf Coast region’s largest plant sales, with more than 3,500 attendees each year. Shoppers can peruse over 1,500 different plant species and visit with vendors who specialize in carnivorous plants, ferns, and orchids.

“We still use the same model now that we used back then because it’s been so effective,” she said. “My biggest joy has always been getting plants out to people, and I’ve been able to do that at Mercer.”

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