By David Fleet
On Feb. 5, Brandon Township resident and 1976 Brandon High School graduate Mary A. Wilson received the Michigan State University Distinguished Academic Staff Award.
Wilson, is on the MSU Extension facility within the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. The award is given to academic specialist and MSU Extension academic staff for extraordinary achievements, excellence and exceptional contributions in advertising, curriculum development, outreach, extension, research, and/or teaching. The award recognizes the comprehensive, unique efforts, excellent character and a broad range of sustained contributions made to the university.
As a child, Wilson came to love plants often working with her grandmother and father in their home garden.
“Our family always had a garden when I was growing up,” said Wilson.
As a Brandon High School student she continued her study of plants and the environment.
“Paul Brehmer taught biology at Brandon High School and he kept me moving toward college,” she said. “He allowed me to take an independent biology study. He knew I was interested in plants and provided extra studies before advanced placement classes were offered to high school students.”
Wilson went on to earned a Bachelor of Science Degree in Horticulture from Michigan State University before completing her studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where she received a Master of Science in Horticulture.
Following her college studies, Wilson was employed at Genesee, Oakland and Wayne counties Extension Services before starting at Michigan State University in 1985.
“What I discovered early on is that extension services helps communities and individuals improve their lives,” she said. “I could marry my passion for horticulture, with an organization that helps communities and individuals.
“I’ve witnessed first hand the power of horticulture.”
From growing their own food, or giving it away, to assisting youth through gardening, to establishing environmental stewardship—Wilson’s passion for horticulture produced a sweeping impacted on Michigan.
During her more than three decades of service she worked with green industry members to found the Genesee Area Landscape and Nursery Association, development of the Horticulture Hotline Diagnostic Technician program and established local MSU Extension Master Gardener programs.
“There is power in plants,” she said. “It’s an extraordinary medium fostering physical, psychological, and social health benefits.”
When the Michigan State University Department of Entomology discovered the invasive emerald ash borer (EAB), she became the EAB education coordinator. She helped secure a Michigan Department of Agriculture grant for more than $400,000, coordinated educational efforts within quarantined counties, and developed an EAB resource manual.
Wilson helped develop high tech systems for soil tests performed through MSU Soil and Plant Nutrient Lab, increasing the efficiency and consistency. She also helped develop the Home Soil Test Self-Mailer serving thousands of homeowners statewide.
“Seventy percent of the United States population garden in some manner,” she said. “That’s approximately 7 million gardeners in Michigan alone. We reach out so people can protect the environment—vital to the more than 1,400 lakes in Oakland County alone.”
In 2008, Wilson became the state coordinator of the MSU Extension Master Gardener Program leading training and management of more than 3,500 Extension Master Gardener volunteers in 79 counties. She also led the development of the Master Gardener Program Administrative Manual, which is now extended its reach to other states as a critical resource for Master Gardener programs. She coordinated the development of the 1,000 page Master Gardner training manual.
“Today people can access the Hotline or Ask an Expert 24/7,” she said. “We provide tools to live and work better.”
Mary and David have been married for 36 years they have two children Kelly and Kristopher. Mary is the daughter of the late Donald and Francis Wills of Ortonville.