GALESBURG, Ill. — A big white school bus decorated with colorful flowers and butterflies pulls into the parking lot. Ms. Mariposa has arrived! The doors of the mobile classroom opens and out comes the “Butterfly Lady.” Smiling and energetic, Rhonda Brady alights from the driver’s seat and nimbly comes down the stairs, drawing children and adults alike. Brady, like the butterflies she champions, flies from schools to nursing homes to community groups spreading the news about the importance of pollinators.
It began with a chance meeting. While attending a gardening program, she met a woman and her daughter. They were not attendees of the program but were tagging butterflies nearby. The rest as they say is history. Brady was “hooked” and learned everything she could about Monarch butterflies, other pollinators and their habitats. “I guess I wasn’t paying that much attention to the program, but I was intrigued by the process of tagging Monarchs and the science behind it” said Ms. Brady.
A Master Gardener since 1996, she added to her knowledge by completing the Master Naturalist training in 2018. “The Master Naturalist title gave me another level of expertise I needed to engage others in protecting pollinators” Ms. Brady said. “What I do is more Master Naturalist than Master Gardener.”
Over the past 5 years, Brady has given more than 1,200 hours of her time, countless miles on Ms. Mariposa and presented programming to more than 7,000 kids and their families to further her goal to make west central Illinois, the IL Monarch Waystation Capital. Asked why she gives so many hours, she replied, “Because of the satisfaction I receive when I see someone “get it”. When they realize they can make a difference no matter what their circumstances are.”
One of the local event Brady began and continues to lead is the annual Monarch Migration Festival held in Galesburg, Illinois every September. Rain or shine, the festival is a free and fun learning experience for all ages.
This year, the 8th annual festival will take place on Saturday, September 10 at the Lakeside Nature Center from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. It is a community collaboration sponsored by University of Illinois Extension Master Gardeners and Master Naturalists, City of Galesburg Parks and Recreation, and the Knox County Farm Bureau.
Visitors will have the opportunity to rotate through educational stations that will include learning about the life cycle stages of the Monarch, migration information, tagging live adult Monarch butterflies, butterfly, pollinator, and milkweed inspired crafts, and a butterfly release will be held each hour.
The educational stations will be “inside the fence” and will require pre-registration due to space and supplies being limited. Walk-ins are welcome to attend activities and booths that will be “outside of the fence.” If space is available “inside the fence,” walk-ins may be accommodated on a first come-first serve basis.
“Inside the fence” registration can be found at go.illinois.edu/MMF. Please register the number of family and friends attending in your group. If you need a reasonable accommodation to participate, please contact Wendy Ferguson, horticulture program coordinator. Early requests are strongly encouraged to allow sufficient time for meeting your access needs.
Ms. Brady continues to work to educate communities about pollinators. “Reaching the goal of planting a 150 million stems of milkweed by 2038 (Illinois Monarch Project) is going to take more than just kids. We are going to need to work with all groups of all ages to increase habitat.” So how can you help? Plant milkweed or nectar plants. Allow places in your yard for ground covers and leaves to remain for overwintering pollinators. And check out Monarch Watch.org for more ideas.
— University of Illinois Extension