Penn State Master Gardeners of Westmoreland plan to honor Richard Hyatt of Greensburg and Robert Palmer of Trauger as Master Gardeners Emeritus. They will join Dr. John Parker of Greensburg as Master Gardeners recognized for distinguished service with at least 1,500 hours of volunteers hours and 10 or more years of service.

Because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, they will be honored virtually and then honored in person by their fellow Master Gardeners at a later date.

Hyatt is a master gardener who has achieved Master Gardener Emeritus with 22 years of volunteer service and 1,557 volunteer hours.

Hyatt is one of three boys born in Greensburg. His brother Bill lives in Florida and his brother Bob is deceased. Growing up, he had a group of friends with whom he spent many good times and of which he has many good memories. After his enlistment in the Army, where he was a helicopter mechanic, Hyatt decided to continue working in that field and has done so for 45 years achieving the Mazda Master Tech level.

His introduction into gardening began when he married, Linda, 42 years ago. She loved gardening and after marriage enrolled in a horticultural degree program in 1991. As Hyatt helped her study, he became interested in gardening and as a result he completed the Penn State Master Gardener program in the 1997-98 class. Since then, he has been active in a variety of building and gardening projects and is always eager to offer his assistance.

One of the activities he enjoyed was being the “chef” on Monday night garden projects. As chef, he grilled hot dogs and rang a bell letting the hungry gardeners know when the food was ready. As they gathered for their meal, they shared gardening ideas and enjoyed the company of each other. With his wit and congeniality Hyatt made a busy, fatigued group of gardeners happy and relaxed.

In addition to his Master Gardener activities, he is also an usher at his church.

Hyatt favorite gardening experience was building a pond in his backyard. Filled with 750 gallons of water, it is constructed of two ponds with a small stream in between them. It is home to goldfish, frogs and a few of Koi. He also enjoys camping.

When asked about his most memorable gardening disaster, Hyatt quickly recalled the time he was staining his front porch and by accident spattered the rhododendron alongside the porch with the stain. Linda was not happy, he told her it would be OK. It did survive.

Hyatt’s most memorable gardening success was repairing snow slits, which are branch breakage because of a heavy snow load, on a Japanese maple in his yard. Not wanting the branches to die, he, in collaboration with another Master Gardener, used stainless steel screws and washers to re-attach the broken branches. It survived and thrives today.

Robert (Bob) Palmer has achieved Penn State Master Gardener Emeritus status with 21 years of service and 3,601 hours of recorded volunteer hours.

Palmer was one of four children born and raised in the outskirts of South Greensburg. His first job was working in the housewares department at the former Troutman’s Department Store. He then went on to trade school to become an electrician. He worked 18 years at Overmyer Mould on the forefront of robotics in manufacturing and for 24 years at the Alcoa Technical Center in New Kensington splitting his time between precision instrument calibration for waste management and as an industrial electrician.

Palmer’s first exposure to gardening was at his grandfather’s 200-acre farm which he and his brother biked to during the summer months. But his real interest in gardening came in 1971 when his son was born.

“I had been researching pesticides and chemicals and realized the harm that they could be causing. I wanted to be safe and grow healthy food for my family.”

Once he decided to take an organic approach to gardening he studied at the Rodale Institute in Kutztown, widely recognized as the birthplace of the organic movement. Bob employs a philosophy that you don’t need chemicals to grow a garden — you can work with nature instead.

He says, “With organic gardening you’re doing everything in your power to prevent disease and insects, it’s all about being proactive. With conventional gardening it’s reactive.”

Palmer, who considers himself a planner and researcher, also thought ahead of what he would do once he retired. Long before retiring from Alcoa, he began thinking about what he would do to fill the void when he quit working. That plan led him to the Master Gardener Program where he could continue to learn and share his gardening expertise with others.

Over the years, he was called on often to teach classes on composting and intensive gardening. He presented countless programs at churches, cub scout and brownie troops, and WCCC. He was part of the team to develop the Vegetable Garden plot at the Master Gardener Demonstration Gardens on Donohoe Road. The garden became a showcase of “best practices” as well as growing hundreds of pounds of food each year that was donated to the Westmoreland County Food Bank.

At the same time, he continued his love of research.

“I’m always analyzing. I only want to do things once. Whatever we would do at the Demonstration Gardens I would do at home to compare results.”

This year, with more time on his hands because of the pandemic, the results in his own garden have been fantastic. Even the drought has been well managed by his precisely laid irrigation system that monitors soil moisture and is regulated on a timer.

Palmer said that even gardening disasters are a success, “Because you learn something.”

Even his worse disaster he counts as a success story. In 50 years of organic gardening he only experienced one year of late blight on his tomatoes.

For the last 10 years, he has been a Westmoreland Fair Superintendent in the agricultural building, overseeing vegetable and farm crop entries. He looks forward to returning to the fair once the pandemic restrictions are lifted.

Palmer and his wife, Connie, have been married 51 years and have a son and daughter, four grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

Retired for 12 years, the two spend five months a year in Bradenton, Florida, about an hour drive from that same son who prompted his lifelong interest in gardening.

“Gardening is something like raising a family. It is very satisfying planting a seed and giving it every opportunity to succeed,” he said.

To stay connected with Westmoreland County gardening activities, visit the Penn State Master Gardeners of Westmoreland County Facebook Page or visit extension.psu.edu.

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