By Stephanie Myers Gonzalez
If your’s is one of the many shaded lots in Cooper-Young, you may have noticed a woman driving slowly down your street, head hanging out the window or maybe even standing in your yard, quietly talking to herself, all while staring up at your trees.
That’d be Judi Shellabarger, this month’s spotlight volunteer. Shellabarger is one of the organizers of the Cooper-Young Historic District Arboretum, but her neighborhood volunteer career started three decades ago.
Shellabarger and her husband, Buzz, moved to their house on Nelson Avenue in 1982. When their real estate agent suggested their home, which at the time had been broken up into three apartments, Judi wouldn’t even look at it. But that didn’t last.
“The house looked awful and needed so much work,” she says. “When I did go look, I immediately fell in love and was ready to buy.”
The Shellabargers put a lot of love into their home, and that’s how Judi got involved volunteering. She and Buzz were out painting one day when neighborhood organizer Randle Witherington stopped by to ask if they’d feature their home in the home tour. From that, they started attending Cooper-Young Community Association meetings, working the CYCA booth at the Cooper-Young Festival, participating in art auctions, home and garden tours, the CY garden walk, the Festival Four Miler, the retirees breakfast, landmarks, and doing the police officer and fire fighter boxes at Christmas.
“When the community first started doing the boxes, they were filled on our dining room table, and we ended up delivering them to the police department on Christmas Eve,” Shellabarger says.
These days, Judi is focused on making the Cooper-Young Historic District Arboretum — a project she started with Emily Bishop, Christine Conley, and Kim Halyak — a reality. Considering how far along the project is, you’d think it’d been in the works for years, but Judi said it all started in 2015, when the four neighbors took the Urban Forestry Advisor’s Class at the Memphis Botanic Garden. The initial plan was to create a Level 1 arboretum, which is one with 40 different tree species.
“From there, it has just grown into a huge project,” Shellabarger says. “As I continued to drive through Cooper-Young, I found more and more different species.”
In fact, she’s found so many species that Cooper-Young is on track to be certified as a Level 3 arboretum, featuring 90 tree species. Judi identified the trees with the help of Nelson Avenue neighbor and forester Carter Speed, the Memphis Botanic Garden Tree Team, and Wes Hopper, arborist and owner of Urban Forestry.
“I cannot thank the neighbors enough for sharing and being a part of this project,” Shellabarger says. “I have learned to appreciate the shape and form of each tree and the beauty of its bark. We have some very unique trees in our neighborhood.”
Some of her favorites include the cottonwood at 2177 Evelyn, the lacebark elm on 1882 Walker, the white ash at 1930 Nelson, the ginkgo at 2053 Oliver, the blue spruce at 2240 York, and the Carolina silverbell at 1991 Oliver. Once completed, leaf-shaped sidewalk markers will lead the way through the neighborhood’s arboretum. The arboretum is on track to be certified in early spring 2017.
Shellabarger encourages anyone interested in getting involved with the Cooper-Young Garden Club, Cooper-Young Garden Walk, or Cooper-Young Arboretum to simply attend a meeting. You can follow the groups on Nextdoor or Facebook.
“I volunteer because I live here and want it to be a better place,” Shellabarger says. “You don’t have to know everything about plants to be in the Garden Club. We are there to learn and to work together.”