Lodi resident Diane Steele and her 16-year-old niece, Kaitlin Drake, received the Mayor's Community Service Award for watering and tending to the potted plants along School Street for the last year.
The project started when Steele read a Letter to the Editor in the Lodi News-Sentinel saying the planter's were not being cared for and had become an eyesore. So Steele and Drake grabbed a variety of plants from Steele's garden at home, planted them in the pots and have been tending to them ever since.
And people have noticed. Outgoing Mayor JoAnne Mounce said her neighbor mentioned that the potted plants make a huge difference when walking through Downtown.
Having two Lodi residents decide to give back in this way should be celebrated, Mounce said.
"I love the fact that you have been committing all of your time, money and effort to make Lodi's Downtown more beautiful," Mounce said.
Steele, who is in her 70s, is also the granddaughter of the longest-serving mayor, G.M. Steele, who served from 1932 to 1942.
"That connection and the love of Lodi I think has been there her whole life," Mounce said.
Steele thanked Mounce and said she has been most impressed with Drake, who started helping for school community service but continued every weekend for the whole year.
"She arrives at my house at seven in the morning on Sunday morning, leaves her cellphone in the car and comes with me, and plays with the plants and picks up cigarette butts and gum and sweeps the ground. She's been doing this for over a year now, and that's for Lodi," Steele said.
Planting trees for the future
While she usually gives honorees a corsage, Mounce said she felt it was more appropriate to give Tree Lodi a pine tree decorated with holiday lights and ornaments.
She pointed out Tree Lodi's accomplishments this year, including planting more than 200 trees at Debenedetti Park.
"If you don't know how to plant a tree, they will take you to DeBenedetti Park and make sure you know how. ... They have made DeBenedetti Park beautiful through their efforts," she said.
Tree Lodi is a nonprofit that works with partners in the community to promote and advocate for the planting and preservation of trees.
President Gordon Schmierer Sr. thanked all of the volunteers who have helped with their projects, especially this spring when volunteers would arrive at DeBenedetti Park at sunrise to hand-water the trees twice a week using hoses. Of the 213 trees that were planted originally, the group has only had to replace 5, which Schmierer said a big accomplishment.
He also pointed to the February tree planting, where 300 volunteer showed up to help.
"A lot of people participated, but one thing that was interesting and very nice for us was to realize that probably 100 of those people out there had never planted a tree before. So that's what we like to do is educate and participate," Schmierer said.
Mounce thanked the group and encouraged people to get involved.
"It's people like you and groups like you who make Lodi the wonderful place that it is," she said.