A few months ago, mostly just gardeners and Minutemen knew the woman who’s been at the center of Kansas City’s biggest controversy.

The Real Mrs. Semler 

A few months ago, mostly just gardeners and Minutemen knew the woman who’s been at the center of Kansas City’s biggest controversy.

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She emphasizes that she's not a master gardener, a title reserved for those who have finished a distinct set of classes. She doesn't like her sister bragging about how bright she is, either. So when Funkhouser asked her to serve on the Parks and Recreation Board of Commissioners, she says she was shocked.

"I'm just an ordinary person," she says. "It's usually society people, somebody who's probably got a lot more money than I did. At first, my thought was, I just couldn't see myself there."

After a personal meeting with Funkhouser, she sent the mayor an e-mail on June 4.

"You can not know how honored I felt to know that you considered me to be on the Parks Commission," she wrote.

"As I often [do]," she continued, "I have listed the pro's and con's [sic]."

Semler told Funkhouser that she'd printed out a list of the parks and was amazed at the number of green spaces in Kansas City. The problem, she noted, was that people didn't even know about some of the parks — even when they lived right next to them. She suggested that the parks needed to be categorized and assessed by an independent group such as the Kessler Society (a private organization that raises funds and promotes preservation of the city's parks and boulevards) or an ad hoc committee of community stakeholders.

"Parks such as the one near us that people do not know about and can not find should be sold or at least 'found.'... One good park is better than three inferior and rundown or unused parks," she wrote.

Once the numbers are whittled down or the resources better understood, she suggested, the city could do a better job of engaging children. In many schools, she explained, students are required to complete community service — a perfect opportunity to get them into the parks. Perhaps the department could even create "Kansas City's Young Park Rangers," she suggested. She knew from working with Northland students during a planting event that kids get a kick out of getting their hands dirty.

"Although they teased me about being Martha Stewart when we braided the old daffodils and grilled me about what wild thing I would be doing that night, we both had a good time," she wrote.

Semler says she was always active in the Parent Teacher Association when her daughter was in school, and she still has a keen interest in helping kids grow up to be "good citizens." One of her ideas for the parks board, for instance, is to create more interaction between children and senior citizens at local community centers.

Despite her excitement at the idea of engaging kids in the city's green spaces, she told the mayor that she had plenty on her plate already.

"The other projects that I am involved in deserve my attention," she wrote. "And Richard and I are sort of the go-to people in the neighborhood when people need help."

She also noted that her husband had been ill. He needed her support, she wrote. "Family trumps everything else," she wrote in closing.

Semler says her first thought was to decline Funkhouser's offer.

"But then I thought, I can help some kids in this town," she says. "In this position, the parks and city work together, and parts of the city need a little leg up, too."

When Semler accepted the title of commissioner, local gardeners were happy. After all, Semler had earned more than a few ribbons at the Missouri State Fair. She's a past member of the Northland Garden Club and the current president of the Clay County Rose Society.

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