Rick Haunreiter – Late Bloomer Devotes Retirement to Master Gardeners

Aberdeen native Rick Haunreiter remembers how he shared an interest in plants with his high school friend, Paul McCleod. After a 30-year detour in San Francisco, he returned to Grays Harbor to pursue his gardening vocation with the Washington State Extension Master Gardeners Foundation of Grays Harbor and Pacific Counties.

grays harbor community hospital“I should have studied plants at college,” Rick laments, “but my mother thought it inappropriate. I majored in English instead and got my teaching certificate.” The college graduate never taught until recently, when he began to teach classes for the Master Gardeners. After 2.5 years with Boeing in Seattle, Rick moved to San Francisco where he became a municipal Medical Record Technician. He held this job for 30 years before retiring at age 52.

The home on 12th Street has inspired Rick Haunreiter’s gardening.

Rick had never lost sight of his dream of becoming a gardener. By 1989, he had enrolled in horticulture classes at the City College of San Francisco. His stressful job did not allow him more than one class per semester. His aim was to become a City Gardener. After eight years, with 52 credit hours of horticulture studies under his belt, Rick made the radical decision to drop it all and retire to Grays Harbor.

With his partner Lee Staley, Rick bought a home on West 12th Street, high up on the hillside overlooking downtown Aberdeen. The house represents a gardener’s dream but also a challenge. It is built into the rock on five levels. It takes a master gardener to tame the ever-encroaching forest wilderness, the deer as well as the vegetation. It required many hours of labor and muscle power to construct stone retaining walls for the multi-level garden.

grays harbor master gardener
Rick is acting as a client at a Master Gardener trainees’ mock plant clinic. Photo Credit: WSU Master Gardeners of Grays Harbor and Pacific Counties.

Sitting by a window with a breathtaking view down to the river, Rick sweeps his arm in the direction of the many collector’s items inhabiting his home as well as the lush hillside garden outside. “It’s a lot of work – the house and the garden. I constructed a trail down the hill behind the garden to discourage the deer. It is hard to keep up with my more than full-time volunteer work.” Before continuing his story, he talks about the history of the house with much enthusiasm. Aberdeen’s past comes to life. This master gardener is also a historian.

Shortly after returning to the Harbor, Rick encountered the Master Gardeners at their first Garden Show which took place at the South Shore Mall. He signed up for the Master Gardener Program, took classes and became a Master Gardener in 2001. He immediately became a very active member helping with the development of the Cosmopolis Community Garden. He constructed benches, raised beds and bulletin boards.

grays harbor master gardener
Many plants begin their lives in Rick Haunreiter’s greenhouse.

In 2002, the growing Garden Show moved to the Elma Fairgrounds. It soon outgrew the small pavilion and moved to the main arena in 2003. Rick began to work at the Master Gardeners Demonstration Garden while getting involved with the publicity of the Garden Show in 2005. In 2006, he took over as President of the Master Gardener Show and remained in this post until 2009.

That year, the Master Gardeners Show became part of the Home and Garden Show under the Olympia Master Builders. The benefits of this fruitful symbiosis included splitting expenses while attracting more visitors.

Rick served on the board of the Master Gardeners Foundation and headed the fairground demonstration garden for nine years. He also served as head of the Grays Harbor Annual Garden Tour. Last year, he retired from the executive side of the Master Gardeners but he is still putting in many hours of volunteer work. “I still assist the board,” he says. “I still work in the demonstration garden and for the last four years I have been a judge at the County Fair Agricultural Display.”

grays harbor master gardener
Rick Haunreiter was honored with the President’s Call To Service Award in 2013.

Recently, Rick has had the opportunity to put his education as a teacher into practice. In 2014, he took a composting class with the Master Gardeners of Thurston County. He passed on his knowledge to his own Grays Harbor Master Gardener trainees. He also teaches classes about native plants, weeds and noxious weeds. He looks regretfully at a single beautiful foxglove in his front yard:.“I’m afraid I will have to sacrifice it as a specimen for my class,” he sighs. “I can’t think of any other foxgloves in the neighborhood.”

In 2013, Rick was rewarded for his labor with the President’s Call for Service Award for 4,000 hours of volunteer work. “I have put in many more hours than that,” he smiles – and he is still going.

Information about the WSU Extension Master Gardeners, upcoming events, Master Gardeners classes and plant clinics can be found at the Pacific Northwest Master Gardeners website. Call 360-482-2934. Follow the group on Facebook.

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