Longtime community volunteer Wayne Burk reflects on his service as he moves from Waukon to be closer to family

Home away from home ... Wayne Burk of Waukon is pictured above tending to one of the now 88 trees planted in the Memory Garden at Waukon City Park. Burk has been a major factor in the Memory Garden growing to its current splendor, and his volunteer efforts will be sorely missed as he and his wife, Joan, move to Independence this week to be closer to their family. Submitted photo.

Volunteer efforts moving on ... Joan and Wayne Burk of Waukon are pictured in the back yard of their Waukon home. The Burks are moving to Independence this week to be closer to family, ending a 26-year residency in a place where their volunteer efforts will be greatly missed. Photo by Lissa Blake.

by Lissa Blake

It was 50 years ago that longtime community volunteer Wayne Burk heard something that has stayed with him ever since.

“I was at a Jaycees meeting, and this passage came up that I never forgot: ‘Your task is to build a better world, said God. And I answered, ‘I’m so small and useless, there’s nothing I can do.’ And God, in all his wisdom, said, ‘Just build a better you.’ I’ve sort of lived by that,” said Burk.

After 26 years of living in Waukon, the Burks are moving to Independence this week to be closer to family.

Burk, who is originally from the Waterloo area, moved to Waukon in 1992 with his wife, Joan, to take a job as superintendent of the Allamakee Community School District.

After serving the District from 1992-1999, Wayne retired and the Burks decided to stay in town. “We liked it here,” Wayne reflected.

When the Burks originally moved to Waukon, the Waukon Community Pride organization was just in its beginning stages. The small group invited the Burks to join, and they have been heavily involved in the group’s efforts ever since.

“It was an all-volunteer organization that was started to help beautify Waukon,” said Wayne.

Projects included redoing the courthouse landscaping and tending the flowers, landscaping near the airport, buying flags and banners for Main Street, fundraising through the sale of Christmas ornaments and more. “Everything we’ve done has been volunteers using money that was donated,” he said.

For many years, Burk and friends could be seen with a van and trailer, filling and hauling five-gallon buckets to water the 18 potted plants along Main Street in Waukon. “Now the town sets aside $1,600 for flowers on Main Street, and three years ago we got Pop’s Produce involved in the project,” he said. “Pop’s is doing a great job.”

In 2009, Waukon Community Pride started raising funds for the Memory Garden that has been created and continues to thrive at the south edge of Waukon City Park. Burk was elected president of the committee and has since spent around 1,000 hours each summer organizing volunteers and personally working on keeping up the garden himself.

“We have 88 trees in there people have purchased for $100 a piece,” he said. “You do not have to be deceased to have a tree planted in your honor.”

Burk said to date, Waukon Community Pride has raised $76,000 for the Memory Garden. The latest project in that area included the incorporation of retaining walls, a sidewalk and a paved parking lot for easier access.

“I want to thank anybody who donated. It was a pretty good-size project … we’ve spent well over $30,000 for just that part of it,” he said.

Waukon Park and Wellness Director Jeremy Strub said, “Wayne Burk is the reason we have a great looking Memory Garden. Wayne spent countless hours on the Memory Garden between working with families on getting a tree, to being on his hands and knees pulling weeds. Wayne will be missed. We appreciate everything he has done for us.”

Marvin “Bud” Strike, who along with wife, Marjorie, worked with Burk on the Memory Garden and agreed Burk will be missed.

“He was president of our association, who organized the meetings and also the work schedule. He tried to fit it in when all the members could be there. Then as we all got a little bit older, it became a bit harder. As we age, people just can’t work that much anymore,” said Strike.

Strike said Burk helped coordinate when prisoners at Luster Heights helped plant trees. “After that, the FFA helped out,” he said.

Because of Waukon Community Pride’s aging volunteer pool and the fact Burk is leaving town, Strub has been making other arrangements to take over the Memory Garden project. “It’s quite a job this time of year,” said Strike.

Burk said because Waukon’s Park and Recreation Department is already so busy, he thinks it would be wonderful if family and friends who donated each tree would take over the responsibility of caring for their loved one’s tree.

“If people could just take care of their own tree, that would help quite a bit,” he said.

Anyone interested in volunteering to help at the Memory Garden or in planting a tree should call Strub at 563-568-0074, ext.1.

Other volunteer contributions Burk has made to Waukon include being a member of the Lion’s Club, Allamakee County Food Shelf co-coordinator and volunteer, Veterans Memorial Hospital (VMH) Foundation Board member, president of the St. Paul’s United Methodist Church Trustees, and he served on the joint Allamakee and Clayton County foster parent review board, among other things.

“I believe firmly that one should volunteer for their community and not just take from their community. One should return favors to their community by being a volunteer,” he said.

The Burks have three children, eight grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. Their move to Independence will allow them to be closer to some of those family members.

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