A greater meaning

July 19, 2015 -  By
LM0715_AMTOPP-summerfield-day Photo: AMTOPP


In the Treasure State, one association is enriching the lives 
of veteran families, the hungry and the young.

In Montana, where the population hovers around 1 million, people have to drive far to make a difference. And those in the landscape industry do drive far—up to eight hours, in fact—every year to honor veterans.

In an annual outing inspired by Renewal & Remembrance, the annual landscape industry volunteer event at Arlington National Cemetery, the Association of Montana Turf, Ornamental & Pest Professionals (AMTOPP) has groomed two Montana cemeteries alternately every year for the last 10 years.

Called Summer Field Day, the event is held every August at one of two Montana veterans cemeteries: the Columbia Falls Veterans Home, Hospital & Cemetery in Columbia Falls, Mont., and the Eastern Montana State Veterans Cemetery in Miles City, Mont.

As with Renewal & Remembrance, “we prune, fertilize, mulch, kill weeds, do any type of maintenance,” says Kari Brittain, the longtime, now former executive director of AMTOPP.

All materials for Summer Field Day are donated by distributors, and equipment is loaned by participating landscape firms. Together, volunteers enhance grounds, remove declining trees, prune, fertilize, groom beds, 
control weeds and more.

The monetary value of the 
cemetery projects typically ranges from $4,000 to $6,000 annually. Since Summer Field Day began, the association has donated about 600 man hours and $15,770 in materials to the cause.

AMTOPP-description Graphic: LM Staff

Graphic: LM Staff

“It feels awesome to give to people who have sacrificed so much for us,” Brittain says. “It’s an honor for us to be able to do that.”

Every year since its inception, Summer Field Day attendance has grown. Last year, about 20 people participated at the Columbia Falls Veterans Home, Hospital & Cemetery. What started as simply fertilizing and mowing around headstones has become “ a little bit more involved,” Brittain says.

In a meaningful tribute, the association now plants a tree at Summer Field Day each year, and it’s planted by a tree grower who is a veteran. The association then commemorates the day with a special plaque.

In addition to the heartfelt nature of the project, says Charles Cherry, who organizes the Miles City event and owns the Miles City business Evergreen Landscaping & Liquid Lawn Fertilizer Service, “networking together as a group lets us form a tighter bond.”

Cherry says his own experience with Renewal & Remembrance gave greater meaning to his involvement in Summer Field Day. At least two AMTOPP members continue to attend Renewal & Remembrance annually, usually the association’s president and vice president.

Digging deep to make it happen

Mobilizing for a volunteer event in Montana is much more labor intensive than it would be in a more populous state. It takes effort. And the association, in the midst of its 25th anniversary year, has shown it has as much staying power as it does altruistic chops.

It coordinates its statewide volunteer efforts through mailed newsletters, emails and phone calls. And in a world where electronic communication is the driver, it’s not so in Montana, where snail mail reigns.

AMTOPP members spruce up veterans cemeteries at its annual Summer Field Day. Photo: AMTOPP

AMTOPP members spruce up veterans cemeteries at its annual Summer Field Day. Photo: AMTOPP

“A lot of our members do not have email addresses, so we depend a lot on paper,” Brittain says.

The association uses that paper every year to organize an annual food drive that it has strengthened in the last three years.

“We felt that we needed to do a better job in the last few years, so we really promote it, and whoever brings the most food gets a free membership for the following year,” Brittain says.

In 2014, Jason Stringer, an arborist with Tree Amigos in Great Falls, Mont., offered customers a 10 percent discount if they donated food. Consequently, Stringer brought to the association’s annual conference 958 pounds of food, helping the association 
generate 788 more pounds of food than it did during the previous year’s drive.

The association’s members also fund three youth scholarships: two $250 4-H Club scholarships that center on green industry projects like community gardens and tree plantings, and a $500 scholarship to a college-bound student. “The goal is to promote the green industry in the state of Montana and to encourage kids to think about improving their communities and how they want to do that,” Brittain says.

Brittain says the association’s members strive to make a difference in whatever they do. “A lot of us volunteer doing other things,” Brittain says. “I really hadn’t done a lot of volunteering until I was part of AMTOPP, but once I started volunteering, I saw I could make a difference.”


About the Author:

Geraci is a freelance writer based in Cleveland. She has worked as a professional journalist for more than 15 years, including six years as a writer for the Chicago Tribune. A graduate of Allegheny College and Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, Geraci began her career as an editor at a newswire service in Washington, D.C., where she edited and distributed press releases from the White House and congressional leaders. She went on to become the community news reporter at the Jackson Hole Guide newspaper, winning two national feature writing awards. Her other experience includes working as a book editor in Chicago and as a professor of business communications at Cleveland State University.

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