Linda Geist
  • Photo courtesy of Donna Aufdenberg
  • Photo courtesy of Donna Aufdenberg
    Photo courtesy of Donna Aufdenberg
  • Photo by Donna Aufdenberg
    Photo by Donna Aufdenberg

JACKSON, Mo. – Retired engineer Lois Caron’s lifelong thirst for knowledge led her to the University of Missouri Extension office where she often bent the ear of MU Extension horticulturist Donna Aufdenberg.

“She was a lifelong learner,” says Aufdenberg. “We had something that she wanted. We had knowledge, and she wanted that knowledge.”

Caron, who held numerous patents, wanted to learn to grow her own food as part of her effort to be self-sufficient in her retirement. She found a comfortable place in Aufdenberg’s extension office. It was a place where she could share her own challenges and how she worked to lessen the struggles of others.

The random office chats on gardening, recycling, solar energy and helping the less fortunate led to an unlikely bond. “MU Extension brings different people from different walks of life together,” Aufdenberg says.

Aufdenberg’s love of horticulture extends beyond the work walls. Each year, she spends countless dollars of her own money to grow and donate bedding plants to nine community gardens, MU Master Gardeners, 4-H and church gardens and youth groups in four southeast Missouri counties.

Master Gardeners and 4-H members in Cape Girardeau County help Aufdenberg by giving their time to help grow and distribute over 250 flats and 550 pots of vegetable and flower plants. The demand for vegetable plants continues to grow as retail produce prices and food insecurity rises. 

“It combines my personal passion with my 21-year Extension career,” she says.

Upon her death, Caron left Aufdenberg with a small inheritance to carry on her work in the community she serves. 

Aufdenberg invested the funds in Thrivent Financial Services, a fraternal benefit society. She made a commitment to use the funds to continue her friend’s efforts to help others. 

She applied for and received $250 seed money from Thrivent Action Teams to support her community gardening project for the last two years. 

“I have been able to do so much with this small gift,” says Aufdenberg. “My mission is to give back. I want to do something great with it.”


MU Master Gardeners help MU Extension horticulturist Donna Aufdenberg prepare flats of plants to donate to groups in four counties in the Southeast Missouri Missouri's Master Gardener program. MU Extension Master Gardeners was established 40 years ago and is part of the 50-year-old national group. Photo by Donna Aufdenberg
MU Extension horticulturist Donna Aufdenberg plants vegetable and flower seeds to be donated in her community. In the past, Aufdenberg had donated the seeds and supplies but now a gift from Thrivent Action Teams helps to support the project. Photo courtesy of Donna Aufdenberg
The greenhouse of MU Extension horticulturist Donna Aufdenberg fills with seed flats to be planted to help community groups grow food to donate. Photo courtesy of Donna Aufdenberg

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