Back to her roots: Jenna Hirtz combines her business background with a love of nature

Jenna Hirtz, Executive Director of Dubuque Aboretum and Botanical Gardens. PHOTO CREDIT: Gassman

Jenna Hirtz, Executive Director of Dubuque Aboretum and Botanical Gardens. PHOTO CREDIT: Gassman

Jenna Hirtz, Executive Director of Dubuque Aboretum and Botanical Gardens. PHOTO CREDIT: Gassman

Jenna Hirtz, Executive Director of Dubuque Aboretum and Botanical Gardens. PHOTO CREDIT: Gassman

This time of year has long been a favorite of Jenna Hirtz.

“I grew up in the country, and my dad and mom were big veggie and flower gardeners,” she said. “From a young age, there was always a lot of love for nature and conservation.”

Now 27, Hirtz serves as the executive director of the Dubuque Arboretum & Botanical Gardens, a position she has held for more than two years.

She got her start with an associate degree in accounting from Northeast Iowa Community College before transferring to the University of Dubuque, triple majoring in accounting, business and human resource management. Hirtz went on to complete her master’s degree in business administration at UD as well.

“From there, like most students who study accounting, I went right into auditing, working as an audit associate with Eide Bailey,” she said. “Then, I transitioned to working as a budget financial analyst with the City of Dubuque, which is where I did my college internship, so that was very natural for me.”

However, while Hirtz enjoyed crunching numbers, she also wanted to pair her degree and experience with her passion.

“I wanted to get back to my roots, and my love of the environment and nature,” she said. “I also wanted to find a way to share that with other people.”

When former arboretum executive director Sandi Helgerson retired in October 2021 after holding the position since December 2012, Hirtz saw her opportunity.

“It allows me to work in a place and in an environment I’m passionate about that also serves the community in a unique way,” Hirtz said. “I like being able to feel like the work I am doing is making a difference and seeing the impact it’s making on others.”

Established in 1975 with 51 acres of land donated by Jackson (Mac) Marshall, the Dubuque Arboretum & Botanical Gardens houses a vast collection of blooms, including annual and perennial gardens, a cactus garden, a children’s garden, an edible garden called the Garden of Eat’n, formal English and herb gardens, a Hosta garden, a hydrangea garden, a Japanese garden, a prairie garden, a rose garden and a wildflower garden.

The arboretum is open from 7 a.m. until dusk, year-round, with no admission fee for visitors.

“There is always something to see, no matter what time of year it is,” Hirtz said. “In the summer, we have the Dubuque Arts Council’s Music in the Gardens, with magnolias blooming. Through October, the roses are absolutely gorgeous.”

The organization also stands on the efforts of volunteers, with more than 300 donating their time to planting and maintaining the grounds. In addition to Hirtz, the arboretum employs four other staff members.

Under Hirtz’s leadership, it has broadened its education and outreach initiatives with more than 30 new workshops and events. Some of those have included partnering with other community businesses like Planted, which hosted an educational offering on houseplants; and the Wisconsin-based Wright Family Farms, which led a

wreath-making event, with other fall favors.

“We want to bring more people here to learn about the great things happening and to learn more about nature,” Hirtz said.

As an emerging leader, she also is a member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals’ Greater Tri-State Chapter and the Young Professionals of Dubuque through the Dubuque Area Chamber of Commerce.

Such organizations have helped Hirtz not only to forge connections, but also to find allies among other young female leaders within the community.

“I was accepted into this role right before my 25th birthday, and I think, at first, there was a lot of people who might have doubted my skill set and my experience,” she said. “But even as a younger person, I knew I had the educational background and the great work experience I needed to be successful at this job. I had to believe in myself and make this role my own. That’s what I would recommend anyone do if they are younger and find themselves coming into a leadership position.”

Projects on the horizon for Hirtz include continuing to develop the arboretum’s accessible walkways for those with lower mobility to be able to take in the grounds, in addition to continuing to expand the organization’s offerings.

“I hope everyone will keep an eye out because there are a lot of great things happening,” Hirtz said. “It’s amazing to continue to watch this organization grow and to be a part of that growth.”

Megan Gloss writes for the Telegraph Herald.

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