At seven-year-old, Charles Rickey, better known as Rick to his friends, moved to Muscatine. Through helping to tend a large home garden, tilling for his neighbors, and later moving with his family to a farm in Muscatine County at 16, Rickey developed a passion for horticulture that has stayed with him throughout his life. In his adulthood, Rickey has striven to use his talents to enhance Muscatine’s outdoor spaces. In his own words, “after high school, I didn’t go to some other town to make it beautiful–I stayed in Muscatine and made it beautiful.”
For 45 years, Rickey worked at Walton’s Nurseries, which later became the Green Thumbers. Following his retirement, Rickey spent seven summers helping at the Muscatine Island Research and Demonstration Farm. He also volunteered with Branching Out Muscatine for 10 years, writing the grant that purchased $10,000 worth of trees for the grounds of the Muscatine Agricultural Learning Center. “I’m responsible for virtually all the plants out there,” he proudly shared.
In 1995, Randy Elder proposed creating an arboretum in Muscatine. With the help of about 12 volunteers, including Rickey, that dream became a reality. Rickey helped plant the arboretum’s first tree, a swamp white oak, and the project kept growing from there. In the last 25 years, the Muscatine Arboretum has grown into a 16 acre green space, leased from Muscatine County. Through the work of many volunteers and donors, the Arboretum has continued to thrive and has even earned ArbNet level one certification as an officially listed arboretum.
Rickey’s daily care and oversight of the arboretum has helped make it a success. For his years of careful attention to the arboretum’s collection of over 1,000 trees, Rickey earned lifetime master gardener status, making him the first person in the county to do so.
As one of the arboretum’s first and longest serving volunteers, Rickey finds the work just one way he can give back to his home town: “I love our history. I’m a history buff, so I love our history from the river,” he said. “The arboretum gives me a way to pay it forward and give back to the community.”