Volunteer Appreciation Week: Rose Garden Corps Care for a Corner of Balboa Park

Rose Garden Corps steward the Inez Grant Parker Memorial Rose Garden

The Inez Grant Parker Memorial Rose Garden, home to over 1,700 roses, is tended to year-round by the Rose Garden Corps, a group of volunteers that deadhead old blooms, care for the beds, and keep the gardens pristine for all who visit.

The history of the Rose Garden demonstrates the power of grassroots efforts, volunteerism, and community collaboration.

“One of the big reasons for all of this is my late husband, Dick Streeper,” shares Sue, who has been volunteering weekly in the Rose Garden since 1975, the year the garden opened to the public. Dick was the president of the San Diego Rose Society and worked with San Diego City Council to create the Rose Garden in Balboa Park. He then founded the Rose Garden Corps in 1984 to care for the roses. “He would often say, ‘If San Diego is one of the best places in the country to grow roses, why don’t we have a public rose garden?’ Then he sought to make it happen.” Sue and her fellow members of the Rose Garden Corps are dedicated to honoring his vision and ensuring the garden remains a cherished part of the community.

Sue Streeper, Rose Garden Corps

Dawn Isbell, Rose Garden Corps

“Many of the features in the park came from people in our community identifying needs that were not being met,” says Dawn, who has volunteered both in the Rose Garden and with Visitor Services since 2020. The Rose Garden is one of the features of the park that members of the community, led by Dick Streeper, built and contributed to, and the Rose Garden Corps carries on his legacy by making sure that future generations can experience the garden.

“I just fell in love with working in the Rose Garden,” says Dawn. “I love all of Balboa Park, but working in the garden is my favorite. I have pictures of my kids in diapers in that garden, and to think that I now work there is incredible.”

For many volunteers, the journey to the Rose Garden began with a simple love for gardening. “I’ve always liked gardening, and this is a great outlet for me,” shares Walt, who has been volunteering for four years. “It’s always nice when other people have the same drive as you; interacting with the other volunteers is fun.” Carolyn, a dedicated volunteer for three years, developed a love for tending to roses when she was young and worked alongside her grandmother. “Visitors to the garden ask questions, and so many of them thank us for the work we do,” she says, reflecting on the gratitude she receives for volunteering. As part of the design, the Rose Garden is intentionally placed in a highly trafficked area, and when the roses are in full bloom, “you have to look at it, you have to enjoy it, and you have to appreciate it,” says Sue.

Carolyn Velasquez, Rose Garden Corps

“Every week I chat with the same people in the garden,” says Dawn, commenting on the community that is built through volunteerism. “People miss you when you aren’t there, and it’s nice to be part of a community like that.” The Rose Garden is supported by “so many good people who volunteer, so not only are you doing a good job, but you are associating with people who are givers,” says Sue. “They are the kind of people that you like to be with.”

For these volunteers, working in the garden has proven to be an ongoing educational opportunity, a chance to connect with the San Diego community, and a way to contribute to the overall beauty of Balboa Park. The volunteers interviewed shared a profound sense of fulfillment that comes from serving others. “Just being in the Rose Garden, I feel like I’m a part of the park. I am one of the people making this happen,” says Carolyn. “This is a really meaningful thing to do, and I take such pride in knowing that I have contributed.”

In celebration of National Volunteer Week (April 22nd to 27th), we will be highlighting our different volunteer groups. We rely on the support of generous donors to deploy 300+ volunteers to serve our visitors and improve the park’s gardens, trails, and trees. Give now to cultivate the important work our volunteers are doing.

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