Gus Polli is happiest being outdoors and working with his hands. Volunteering at the Arboretum, he acknowledged, is a good fit.
Gus and his wife Louise discovered the Arboretum during a ride out in Schoharie County, and started volunteering shortly after Louise retired. Gus demurred at pulling weeds but found that there were carts that needed repair, tires that needed changing, machines that needed maintenance, all jobs that were much more to his liking.
As Louise became more involved, Gus did too: “I was shanghaied or conscripted, whatever it was, but I woke up, and I was here.” Over time, there were lights that were hung in the propagation room, a leaking water line in the greenhouse fixed, brackets in the shed installed to organize plant sale materials – just a few of a myriad of tasks that benefited from Gus’ handiwork and mechanical aptitude, his “stock in trade.”
“He’s always been a hands-on kind of guy,” Louise says. Gus grew up on a farm, and his father maintained that a farmer needed to be a “jack of all trades,” a conviction that Gus still lives by. He still works the family farm, cultivating about 15 acres of soybeans and managing a woodlot. He also operates a 3‑bay car wash in Grand Gorge.
Most of his professional life was spent in law enforcement. Gus served 33 years and retired as a Lieutenant with the New York State University Police. He was employed at several campuses (including SUNY Cobleskill, where he met Louise, who was a residence director at the time), the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, and as an investigator for the NYS Education Department’s Office of Professional Discipline.
He’s also a self-described “people person” – his police work taught him those skills. He found that the Arboretum offers an opportunity to meet and learn from “as diverse a group of people as you’ll ever know.” He added, “No matter what interests or skills you bring to the Arboretum, there is a place for you.”
But it’s not all work at Landis, he pointed out. There is the opportunity to be surrounded by nature – and to learn about the natural world. Gus singled out George Steele’s workshop on the white-tailed deer and Anne Donnelly’s on dragonflies as especially interesting. He hoped that more young people would discover the Arboretum, and is encouraged by the Arboretum’s outreach to families with children. To experience Landis’ dark skies and a Star Party, hosted by the Albany Area Amateur Astronomers, he said, would be something that every child would remember for the rest of his or her life. Landis is open every day, all year long – and is a much shorter drive from the Capital Region than most people imagine, he pointed out. “You don’t even have to hike,” Gus said. “ Just sit on the deck and enjoy the view from the Meeting House. It’s incredible at any time of year, especially summer into fall.”
Gus and Louise are often seen at area events promoting the Arboretum’s many attractions. Visitors to Landis may encounter Gus on a ladder, directing traffic at the plant sales, or underneath a tractor. He stated, “I’m proud to be part of the crew that makes the place run.”