For 2015, it’s my sincere privilege to name and honor Rob Buerk and Steve Casaleggio as the Review’s Volunteers of the Year! Rob and Steve are driving forces behind the continued success of the Jacksonville Boosters Club and formed the leadership team that oversaw the restoration of the Peter Britt Gardens. In addition to club projects, both are involved in other civic activities that improve the lives of others and increase the overall livability of the city. Earlier this year, the Peter Britt Gardens were formally re-opened after a multi-year restoration project was completed under the leadership of Rob and Steve. The historic Peter Britt Gardens—located on the southeastern side of the Britt music venue—date from 1860 when Peter Britt, a noted photographer and horticulturist, first settled in Jacksonville and began planting grapes and cultivating other plants at his hillside home. After the Britt home burned to the ground in 1960, the gardens essentially returned to a semi-natural state. In the years following the fire, much of the Britt property was transformed into the now-famous Britt music venue, including the lower garden area, adjacent to Highway 238. Today, the restoration of the gardens boasts new pathways, overhead and pathway lighting, irrigation systems, drainage and signage, along with hundreds of period-specific plants that Peter Britt himself had grown on the site for decades. A tour of the gardens is now a “must-see” for anyone living in or visiting town.

Speaking to the success of the project and what it means to the festival grounds, Britt Music and Arts Festival CEO Donna Briggs said, “Rob and Steve are two very busy people that don’t necessarily have the time, but they have the heart and the will to make a difference in our community. Britt and the City of Jacksonville benefit from their tireless efforts to improve the Lower Britt Gardens and inspire us all to do more.”

Thanks to their leadership, “Another Jacksonville volunteer project is a reality,” noted Dirk Siedlecki, one of the Review’s 2013 Volunteers of the Year and President of the Friends of Jacksonville’s Historic Cemetery. Dirk, who knows what it takes to plan and execute major projects said, “When Marjorie Edens, a longtime supporter and historian of Jacksonville passed away in April, 2014, she left her estate to the Jacksonville Boosters Foundation to be used for the restoration and long-term maintenance of the Peter Britt Gardens.” Knowing that the gardens were very special to Marjorie and that the restoration project had been eyed as a potential Booster Club project, Rob, Steve and their dedicated team of volunteers got to work, using their individual skills to make it happen.”

Speaking to the leadership skill needed to make the garden dream a reality, Dirk added, “Rob and Steve have accomplished something amazing and something I know is making Marjorie smile from ear to ear. The hours these two spent and continue to spend working at the site and behind the scenes—at meetings, planning, designing and developing each aspect of the overall project, is monumental… their dedication and hard work will be appreciated for many years to come and the gardens are truly becoming a destination garden once more, just as Marjorie hoped.”

Jacksonville City Administrator and Public Works Director Jeff Alvis has worked with the duo for years and noted, “Spearheading a large-scale project of this nature meant working in conjunction with City and Britt Festivals staff. Rob and Steve are an incredible asset to the City….their dedication to projects which directly benefit the community is just amazing. We are so lucky to have these two fine gentlemen in our community. And, it’s always great working with them because they make it fun!”

Mike McClain, President of the Boosters Club also expressed his appreciation, saying, “Rob Buerk and Steve Casaleggio would both qualify to wear a scarlet “V” on their shirts to signify the number of volunteer hours and days they have spent on multiple projects to improve our town. To begin with, both are mainstays of the Jacksonville Boosters Club; Rob is the President of the Boosters Club Foundation while Steve is a former three-year president of the Boosters Club… they are tireless workers on projects to make Jacksonville a better place to live.”

Rob and Steve have also taken leadership roles on civic committees. Rob serves on the Parks, Recreation and Visitors Services Committee and is a member of the Mayor’s Advisory Committee. Likewise, Steve serves on the PRVSC as the Chair, and also lends his professional legal expertise in helping create master plan documents for the city.

McClain added, “Rob’s finely-tuned organizational skills have been put to the test by the multi-year development of the gardens, but his volunteer time also includes hanging US flags on holidays and Chinese lanterns, assisting in the Meet the Pioneers tours and helping coordinate city projects with the City Administrator.”

While Rob’s forte is in organizing and seeing projects to the end, Steve “is also hands-on man, always leading a group in the trenches, whether shoveling, running a blower, scraping paint, manning a paintbrush or repairing and refinishing a Jacksonville street bench. Steve just can’t walk through the gardens without getting out his tool kit and putting it to use to repair or modify some aspect of the garden,” McClain said.

For their years of selfless volunteer service, major accomplishments and for making a difference in the lives of others, the Review extends a heartfelt Thank You and Congratulations to Rob Buerk and Steve Casaleggio for being our 2015 Volunteer Citizens of the Year!

Featured image is l-r, Rob Buerk and Steve Casaleggio.