Landis Portraits: Wendy Kass

By Nolan Marciniec

She remem­bered her first plant sale in the com­pa­ny of her hus­band and mutu­al friends. 

She met Anne Don­nel­ly and oth­er Arbore­tum vol­un­teers, and, she said, I fell in love with every­body .… . It was such a warm atmos­phere. I want­ed – I need­ed – more.”

And more” hap­pened to Wendy Kass, as it has to so many in the Arbore­tum com­mu­ni­ty. Lat­er, when her hus­band, Jim Paley, became more involved in the Arbore­tum, she would tag along and spend the time he was at meet­ings talk­ing to people.

Toss­ing out ideas,” she admit­ted, was some­thing she was always good at. 

One of her ideas was to mar­ket Lan­dis as a wed­ding venue. Some­one needs to take respon­si­bil­i­ty to bring ideas to fruition, and Wendy stepped up and became the Arboretum’s spe­cial events coor­di­na­tor. It’s a per­fect fit, as con­firmed by the sev­er­al wed­dings held under her aegis. The excite­ment of a wed­ding is con­ta­gious. I feel as if it’s my own wed­ding all over again!” she said. In addi­tion to a propen­si­ty for gen­er­at­ing ideas, Wendy has always had what she called an artis­tic bent.” She stud­ied raku pot­tery, stone cut­ting, and sil­ver smithing. For more than twen­ty years, she and Jim trav­eled in South­east Asia, often win­ter­ing in Thai­land, where she stud­ied Phuket batik under a mas­ter arti­san. The trav­el and the art she encoun­tered inspired a less is more” mind­set that is reflect­ed in her own art. She’s offered class­es in both shi­bori and batik at Lan­dis; this year, she hopes to intro­duce a work­shop on ice dye­ing fab­rics.

At home, Wendy’s gar­den­ing reflects her min­i­mal­ist approach. Hers is a culi­nary gar­den fea­tur­ing unusu­al herbs, edi­ble flow­ers, and toma­toes (because there is noth­ing like a home­grown toma­to”). She is enter­tain­ing the idea of a fra­grance gar­den or a white gar­den to appre­ci­ate in the evening.

She’ll nev­er be at a loss for ideas.

One win­ter night, she and Jim and friends got togeth­er at the Meet­ing House, lis­ten­ing to music and explor­ing the pos­si­bil­i­ty of bring­ing live music to the Arbore­tum. When the full moon broke through the clouds, Wendy sug­gest­ed the idea of gath­er­ing music lovers togeth­er by the light of the moon – and so the Arboretum’s pop­u­lar Full Moon Music Series “ was born. 

Wendy grew up in sub­ur­ban Chica­go, and she recalled her vis­its to the Mor­ton Arbore­tum and the Chica­go Botan­i­cal Gar­dens. By con­trast to these high­ly cul­ti­vat­ed – and heav­i­ly endowed – insti­tu­tions, Wendy trea­sures Lan­dis because it is, in part, a wild place.” Any­one would feel com­fort­able there. You walk and find sur­pris­es, some­thing unex­pect­ed, some­thing mag­i­cal,” she said. Wendy thrives on vol­un­teer­ing. It’s good for one’s men­tal health, she said, to be part of some­thing larg­er than your­self, to take the focus off the me-me-me.” Plus, she added, there’s all that fresh air as a bonus! And the plea­sure of meet­ing earth-cen­tric” peo­ple. Wendy’s path to the Arbore­tum is a famil­iar one: it was love at first sight

Spring 2021

Volume 39 , Number 1

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