Margaret Missiaen

Leaving the Hill, a Dedicated Volunteer Sets Her Sights on new gardens to tend

When Margaret Missiaen and her husband, Ed, move from Capitol Hill to San Francisco they will trade a house with a yard for a condo and the neighbors and friends of 35 years for proximity to their children and grandchildren.  They will have bikes and buses instead of a car and a view from a building on Nob Hill that will look out not on the Bay or on the Golden Gate Bridge but on a vista Margaret very much appreciates.  “Trees!”

Five years ago, when Margaret was honored by the Capitol Hill Community Foundation with a Community Achievement Award, it was noted that she had turned the green thumb developed growing up in Indiana tending vegetables on a family farm into a calling.  She found her special niche not just raising tomatoes and flowers in her back yard but, after her retirement from the federal government in 1996, becoming an expert pruner of street trees.

As a volunteer with Trees for Capitol Hill and then as a certified “Citizen Forester,” Margaret pruned 400 trees each winter for almost 20 years.  In December, when she moves away, she will miss our neighborhood trees – many of which owe their good health and elegant shape to her care -- almost as much as her many friends.

Volunteering has been a theme of their lives for both Margaret and Ed who  began their careers in the 1960s with service in the Peace Corps.  Margaret spent two years in a desert village in Senegal where she learned the local Wolof language and ran a social center for girls, teaching them sewing and other skills.  Ed was a volunteer in Colombia. They met back in the States when both were employed at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This work took them, with their two small sons, to Brazil where for four years Ed was the agricultural officer at the U.S. embassy.  Returning to Washington, Margaret went back to the Agriculture Department to work part time and then later full time studying agricultural conditions in African countries.  She volunteered at her children’s schools, became active at St. Peter’s Catholic Church which she calls it “an important anchor” in their lives (of course, in addition to providing lunches for the homeless, she worked in the garden there).

 Margaret helped organize neighborhood work days to care for trees and plants in Marion Park and when she found herself with a few free minutes she would go down the street and look after the garden at Friendship House (now The Maples condominiums in the 600 block of South Carolina Ave. SE).  After they retired, she and Ed became volunteers with Trees for Capitol Hill and with Capitol Hill Village, the neighborhood non-profit that aims to support residents as they age.  They are both “friendly visitors,” assisting elderly neighbors by changing light bulbs and doing minor home repairs in his case, in hers by helping with gardening.

As they look to life in a new city, Margaret and Ed expect that what they have learned at Capitol Hill Village will help them to settle in.  A similar “village” is part of life on Nob Hill and they hope to meet people by becoming volunteers there.  They will miss having the Southeast library a block from their home but look forward to exploring San Francisco’s 40 public libraries and many museums (with monthly “free” days).  A mere two mile bike ride away are two grandsons; several hours drive away, just over the state line in Oregon, Margaret and Ed have two granddaughters.

While Margaret will miss having her own yard with growing things in it, she looks forward to helping her daughter-in-law with her garden and to adjusting to California’s long growing season.  Working outside, Margaret has found, is a good way to meet people and to get to know them.  She is modest about her accomplishments here but does admit, “I can talk about gardens forever.”

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