Janice Stiefel – Wild Ones Steward

By Janice Stiefel

My husband, John, and I had a serendipitous introduction to Wild Ones back in the late summer of 1989. We were taking our annual family bike ride along Brown Deer Road, in Bayside, leading ultimately to the lake front in downtown Milwaukee. As we were riding on Brown Deer Road we noticed a huge berm with blooming wild flowers like purple coneflower, cup-plant, prairie coneflower, wild senna, wild bergamot, black-eyed Susans – all the exciting plants I had been trying to include in a wild planting we had started in our own yard.

As we brought our bikes to a screeching, abrupt halt, we stopped to admire the flowers and grasses and the secret pathways that led to an unknown location. As we were aspiring to venture down one of the paths, an enthusiastic young boy suddenly appeared and asked if we would like to meet his mother because she had planted all those flowers. Of course, we wanted to meet her. And what a delight she was – charming, lovely, effervescent, and personable. Her name was Julie Marks.

She told us that she was the treasurer of a wildflower organization called Wild Ones that met at the Milwaukee Audubon Nature Center, located at the east end of Brown Deer Road. She invited us to one of their meetings. That was the first time we had ever heard of Wild Ones. We attended the next meeting and met many friendly, exuberant, people who were interested in native wildflowers, as well as protecting the environment. We thought we had died and gone to heaven. We met Lorrie Otto, the group’s founder, and what an inspiration she was. Personally, I was in awe of her commitment, her ability to speak to an audience with ease, her goals and accomplishments, her captivating demeanor, and her attractive jacket of many colors.

At that meeting in the fall of 1989, we also met the sparkling personality of the president, Deb Harwell. In the course of my conversation with her, I happened to mention that I had been writing a “Wild Flora-of-the-Month” column since 1988 for the Depot Dispatch in Elkhart Lake. She asked if I would do the same for the Wild Ones’ newsletter, The Inside Story. I was honored to be asked, and couldn’t wait to share the incredible stories behind each plant. This conversation with Deb Harwell in 1989 was the genesis of “The Inside Story,” which began with the March/April, 1990, issue of The Outside Story. The first plant profiled was skunk cabbage. Since that is one of the first wildflowers to appear after a long, cold winter, it was a perfect beginning for a column that has spanned more than a decade.

It is with great respect and admiration that John and I salute Wild Ones on their 25th anniversary. Lorrie Otto has made a lasting societal impact in how we all envision the environment and the potential of our own private property. We have been encouraged to dare to be different, and to stem the tidal wave of mowed lawns sweeping the country. – Janice Stiefel, October 1, 2002.

Janice Stiefel died peacefully in the presence of her family, Tuesday evening, March 18, 2008. A memorial fund is being established to publish her 71 “The Inside Story” articles which appeared in the Wild Ones Journal and other periodicals from 1990 to 2002. Please send your donations made out to Wild Ones FBO Janice Stiefel Memorial, to Wild Ones, P.O. Box 1274, Appleton, WI 54912.

The Inside Story, by Janice Stiefel is available for sale in the Wild Ones Store.

Janice Stiefel’s Leadplant article.