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Look Who’s Talking – Kalamazoo In Bloom

There’s no denying that this winter in Michigan has been harsh. So harsh, in fact, that it seems hard to believe that we’ll ever get to see lush greenery and blooming flora again. All pessimism aside, spring will indeed come once again (as it always does) and bring us the warmth and beauty our souls so desperately crave. When it does, you can be sure that the members of the Kalamazoo in Bloom team will be ready. The local plants, flowers and trees they’ve been lovingly cultivating during the long, cold winter months will leave their greenhouses and be distributed throughout the Kalamazoo area. Their mission? To bring beauty and refreshment to our wonderful community and encourage us to spend a little more time outdoors.

MONIKA TRAHE is the Executive Director of Kalamazoo in Bloom and CJ Drenth serves as its Gardener Educator. Together, with a team of over 200 dedicated volunteers and partner organizations, they host a series of planting days every May that transform the Kalamazoo and Portage areas. We’re thrilled to have the chance to tell you a little more about these dynamic ladies.

Monika Trahe is a Florida native who found her way to Southwest Michigan when she came to attend Western Michigan University for graduate school. She earned her Master’s degree in Biological Anthropology and thought that her path would lead her to a career in Anthropology. Instead, her love of working with people led her to careers in a variety of non-profit organizations over the years.

Monika notes that her position with Kalamazoo in Bloom is due, in large part, to being in the right place at the right time. She crossed paths with Mary van Tassel, who was then the organization’s Board Chair, a few weeks before the then-director announced her retirement. Mary thought of Monika, and, as she was between jobs, the timing seemed serendipitous.

Being Executive Director of Kalamazoo in Bloom is truly a dream job for Monika. She loves that the work she does directly benefits the entire community. “There is an immediate impact once the flowers are planted – the community looks more welcoming and people’s spirits seem lifted,” she notes. “I love the community involvement; both with the volunteers who make it all happen and the greater community who appreciate and positively comment on what we’ve done. It fills me with such gratitude and renews my passion for this work.”

Monika is happily and busily single. She is a big supporter of the arts and loves to take in a show at any of Kalamazoo’s great venues during her time off. She loves musicals and secretly dreams of being on Broadway, despite her lack of training, singing voice or acting experience. Her idea of a perfect day off would include watching a Hallmark movie, with nothing weighing on her mind.

CJ DRENTH has been a MSU Extension Certified Advanced Master Gardener since 2008 and is honored to use her considerable skills to transform the Kalamazoo and Portage communities into places of great beauty. Her work begins before most of us are even starting to think about the coming of spring. By December 1st (long before most of us have finished our Christmas shopping), CJ has meticulously planned for and ordered the plants she will need for the following planting season.

By February, CJ is in the greenhouse, growing the plants (including 100 flower tree pots) that will eventually find their homes throughout our community. Once the weather turns and spring is here to stay, it’s time for CJ and her team of volunteers to do the planting. There are currently six planting days scheduled, starting on May 14 and continuing through May 23. Whether it’s planting the peacock in Bronson Park or bringing the canoe and butterfly in Portage to life, there is plenty of work to keep the many volunteers busy. CJ notes that her team will plant all forty beds in Bronson Park in under three hours. Transforming the face of Kalamazoo’s outdoor spaces to make them more vibrant and welcoming is deeply satisfying for CJ.

CJ loves that she has “the biggest and best office in Kalamazoo” where everyone can visit her. She deeply believes that this job chose her and she loves working outside. Not surprisingly, her perfect day is sunny and 70 degrees with no humidity. She worries that if we don’t do something to remedy the climate change that is threatens our planet, those “perfect days” will become rarer and rarer. She notes that “without drastic changes from everyone, there is no way our planet can sustain us into the next century. All other concerns pale when we realize we are destroying the planet that sustains us all.”

CJ has spent 35 years in the theatre community, where she has learned many strange and wonderful things, including how to juggle. She loves crafts of all kinds and enjoys doing jigsaw puzzles to pass the long winter months.

Find out more at www.kalamazooinbloom.org


Erica Shier is a married mother of four who loves reading, scrapbooking & thrift stores. When she’s not driving her small pack of children around, she spends her time volunteering, writing & trying to keep on top of the laundry.

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