Bill Schemel of Van Buren, who chairs of the Popeye Garden in Alma, has been named River Valley Master Gardener of 2017. He is the first Crawford County Master Gardener to receive this honor.

The presentation of the Silver Trowel Award was made at the annual Master Gardener holiday party Dec. 7. Making the surprise announcement were Sebastian County Agent Lance Kirkpatrick and MG President Isaac Witt.

Earlier this year, Schemel, a 15-year Master Gardener, was honored by the Crawford County Fair Board for his work in the fair’s horticultural division.

Schemel also has been involved in many of the group’s 12 community projects, including the Lawn and Garden Show and the Fort Smith Convention Center project.

A native of Alden, N.Y., Bill grew up in a German farming community where his grandparents had a large farm. So farming has always been a part of his life.

“Our family lived nearby and always had a moderate size garden but it was greatly enlarged during World War II. I spent a lot of my youth doing farm work for family and neighbors,” he recalled.

He received a bachelor’s degree from Georgetown University and a medical degree from Georgetown University School of Medicine. He spent his first two years of medical practice at the Indian Hospital in Tuba City, Ariz., then returned to Buffalo, where he completed a residency in anesthesiology at the Veterans Administration Hospital and joined the staff of Mercy Hospital there.

For the past 30 years, Schemel and his wife Jeanne have resided in Arkansas. He was a member of the anesthesiology staff of St. Edward Mercy Medical Center until retiring in 2003.

The Schemels are parents of six children and grandparents of 11.

After retiring, a “life-time of gardening” led him to join the Master Gardener program. He has been an active volunteer in many of the 13 community projects in Sebastian and Crawford counties.

About five years ago he became chair of the Popeye Garden and since then has led a team of volunteers in renovating the old garden and in planting ornamental grasses and roses along with annuals bordering the sidewalk in addition to adding numerous containers filled with seasonal plants.