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Jefferson City businesswoman with green thumb hopes to restore trees destroyed by tornado

Jefferson City businesswoman with green thumb hopes to restore trees destroyed by tornado

August 5th, 2019 by Phillip Sitter in Local News

Jeanne Schwaller peers out from between the branches of a Missouri pecan tree in her back yard. She planted the tree as a seedling many years ago, and it has grown to produce nut meats and provide shade for her house.

Photo by Julie Smith /News Tribune.

It's difficult, if not impossible, for Jeanne Schwaller to pick favorites out of the 45 countries she's lived in or the wide variety of plants growing around her home in Jefferson City, but it's easy for her to say which garden club projects she's proudest of.

Schwaller — a member of the Bittersweet Garden Club and Capital Garden Club and former president of both — was born in Jefferson City, but plants became important to her when she was 7 or 8 years old and moved to Florida.

"I started fooling around with tropical plants," she said.

That meant planting them and "taking chainsaws to cut down poinsettias" — yes, the poinsettias were that big.

Schwaller went on to earn a Ph.D. in horticulture and international marketing from the University of Missouri and Lincoln College in Christchurch, New Zealand.

She owns International Business Consulting and runs it from her home, focusing on the development of training programs for agriculture-based products — with the one exception of when she had a sub-contract on a three-year Russian electrical distribution project.

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Her last project was in Namibia, working for the World Bank on the formation of cattle cooperatives, and she's getting ready to travel to Malawi to try to set up a grower's co-op for sunflower oil processing.

"Working in Egypt was probably the most rewarding" because of the people, she said.

She's even crossed paths in her life with Xi Jinping, who is currently president of China but in 1985 was a member of a Chinese delegation in Iowa she worked with — although Schwaller doubted Jinping would remember her.

The two projects she's proudest of that are closest to home with garden clubs, though, were through Bittersweet. They are restoring Washington Park after the Flood of 1993; and a $10,000 grant for signage, with Braille, for trees in Memorial Park and to write educational guides for students at the nearby West Elementary and St. Joseph Cathedral schools.

Two tornadoes on May 22 in Missouri have also been significant parts of her work — the May 22, 2011, Joplin tornado, and the May 22, 2019, tornado that hit Jefferson City and Eldon.

Schwaller said she helped put together bits and pieces of grants in response to Joplin's disaster, and the Federated Garden Clubs of Missouri together raised $524,000 to replant trees and restore a park there, where 6-8 inches of topsoil contaminated with bits of glass and metal after the tornado had to be removed and replaced.

The Capital Garden Club, Bittersweet Garden Club and St. Louis' Forest Re-Leaf are working to provide free trees to residents affected by the May 22 tornado in Jefferson City.

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Affected residents will be able to pick up two trees Oct. 3 at 1626 Tanner Bridge Road in Jefferson City, and the hours of pickup will be announced when the trees arrive. All available varieties will be native to Missouri — red and white oak, black gum, river birch, redbud and Eastern wahoo.

The Missouri Department of Conservation will also provide a demonstration on how to plant and maintain the trees, Schwaller said.

The Capital Garden Club is also supporting the restoration of Hickory/Adams Park.

Schwaller said 250 trees will be coming in October, with another distribution planned for spring 2020. The goal is to plant "as many as the community wants."

"There's a certain connection between human beings and living things," she said of the importance of restoring the trees. The trees will provide shade, sequester carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and, speaking from her personal experience, become goal posts for children to kick footballs through — though hopefully no more neighbors' garage windows will be broken.

She has two children, and she and her late husband, Edward, were married for 40 years.

She likened the question of what her favorite plant is to being asked to pick a favorite child.

"Anything that's green and grows is fine," she said.