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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