Why We Give: Alma

People Person + Great Gardener = Volunteer Extraordinaire 

Alma Reitz Alma Reitz

Among Alma Reitz’s many admirable traits are two that made her perfect for her volunteer role at the Missouri Botanical Garden. Alma is a people person—which contributed to her decades of success as an employment manager at Sears, Roebuck and Co.—and a great gardener.

In Alma’s humble fashion, she says she has “always known a little bit about gardening, but it’s really been the people angle.”
Alma’s niece Martha Kratzer thinks her aunt knows more than a “little bit” about gardening.

“My siblings and I would always call her and say, ‘Aunt Almie, I need help growing...,’ and she would have the answer for whatever it was.”

Alma has decades of experience responding to such calls. She joined the Missouri Botanical Garden as the first woman volunteer on the Horticulture Answer Service in 1975, just after retiring from Sears. People generally referred to the horticulture help line as the “answer man” service, which made things interesting when Alma picked up the phone.

“I would answer, and they’d think I was the receptionist,” she remembers. “They’d say, ‘I need an answer man,’ and I’d say, ‘I think I can help,’ and we would talk and work out their question.”

Alma retired from the answer service in 2011 and answered thousands of phone calls during her tenure.

“Some callers would throw out scientific botanical names,” she says. “Others, when you asked them what the plant looked like, would say, ‘Well, it has leaves.’“

Regardless of the differences in botanical understanding during those first phone calls, Alma often received similar follow-up calls.

“They would call back a week later and say, ‘You wouldn’t believe how good it looks now,’” Alma remembers.

Alma is a lifetime resident of St. Louis and a lifetime gardener. Her love for gardening began in her parents’ vegetable garden, and she shared that love with the next generation. When Martha and her siblings would visit their grandparents’ house, she remembers Aunt Almie walking them through the garden and letting the kids “harvest the crops.”

Alma became a valuable part of the Garden community through her standing Tuesday commitment on the Horticulture Answer Line and volunteer shifts every other weekend at the William T. Kemper Center for Home Gardening.

“It’s been fun,” she says. “It’s been an education. It’s been the center of friendships.”

Alma remains in contact with the friends and colleagues she gained during her volunteer years and plans to support the Garden beyond her lifetime with a gift from her estate.

When asked why she named the Garden in her estate plans, Alma says simply, “Because the Garden is part of my heart.”