Wrightsville Beach Volunteer of the Year Driven by Passion for Gardens

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Even with a post-surgery walking boot slowing her down, Elise Running’s enthusiasm was infectious as she walked through Harbor Way Gardens.

“I just love it here,” said Running. “It gives me such joy, especially when I see people in here enjoying themselves.”

The Pelican Road resident and 27-year member of the Harbor Island Garden Club was recently awarded the 2017 Nancy Faye Craig Volunteer of the Year Award by the Town of Wrightsville Beach primarily for her work with the gardens, which welcome visitors to the town.

“I’ve always been big with doing my own yard,” said Running of her interest in horticulture. “I hate to say it, but I think it comes with age.”

Running, who is the Garden Club member in charge of the gardens, took her hobby even further last year by enrolling in the master gardener program offered through the New Hanover County Arboretum and North Carolina State University Extension.

“It’s one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done,” said Running, who recently graduated from the six-month-long program. “If I had any idea how hard it was going to be, I never would’ve done it.”

The hard-won certificate now sits on her mantelpiece at home, on the opposite end from her Volunteer of the Year plaque.

“My husband calls that my trophy case,” Running said with a laugh.

Thanks to Running’s efforts, Harbor Way Gardens also has a new certification.

“One of the things I really worked hard for last year was for us to become a certified wildlife habitat,” Running said. “One of the things you have to provide is food for animals.”

Fennel was planted for butterfly larva to eat while they’re in the caterpillar stage, and milkweed was planted for butterflies to feed on once they’ve emerged from their chrysalises.

“Last year we took a picture of the milkweed, and in that one picture there were 13 butterflies,” Running said with delight. “We called that a ‘God moment.’ It was so amazing.”

In addition to being a long-standing member of the HIGC, Running is also a member of the Wrightsville Beach Foundation, which has helped raise money for the water fountain in Harbor Way Gardens, and is currently serving on the Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee.

“She’s definitely a dedicated resident of Wrightsville Beach,” said Katie Ryan, the town’s recreation program supervisor. “She does a beautiful job with the gardens, and she’s also very supportive of us employees and supportive of the town.”

Evan Morigerato, Wrightsville Beach’s parks maintenance supervisor, agreed.

“She’s been very good to us over the years,” said Morigerato, who along with his staff helps Running with major maintenance such as clearing fallen trees after last October’s Hurricane Matthew came through the area. “We help her out, but she does a lot for us, too. It’s been wonderful working with her over the years.”

Ryan and Morigerato were both on hand in February when Running was presented with the award.

“I was very honored [to receive the award],” Running said. “I’m pretty invested in the community, and it was nice to be recognized.”

“She’s just top-notch,” Ryan said of Running. “She’s very deserving of that award.”

Injured foot and all, Running has been doing what she can to get the gardens ready for spring as well as for the Harbor Island Garden Club’s first ever plant sale, which will be held at the gardens last Saturday.

“We’ll have about 700 plants for sale, and we’ve concentrated on things that would grow on this side of the drawbridge,” Running said of the fundraiser, which along with a simultaneous furniture tag sale will raise money for the ongoing maintenance of the gardens.

After the sale, and after her foot fully heals, Running intends to dive back into beautifying the garden, not just for the summer season but for the foreseeable future.

“I’m very passionate about this,” Running said. “I intend to keep doing this as long as I’m able.”

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