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Volunteer sought to take over pumpkin project at Carpenter Nature Center

Paul Boettcher must be one of the world's most prolific pumpkin growers.

Sadly for the Carpenter Nature Center, Boettcher is stepping away from growing the orange orbs. At 77 years old, he says the job's physical demands are too great for him to continue, and the search is under way at Carpenter to find the next pumpkin producer.

"It's just getting to be too much at my age," Boettcher said. "If I were younger, I'd just keep on plowing, but I'm 77. All of this, it's a lot of hard work. You plant by hand. You hoe by hand and you harvest by hand. You can't mechanize that."

The pumpkin project began in 2003. The nature center had been buying pumpkins and squash to complement their apple sales. Boettcher saw a need and came up with a plan for the nature center to grow its own pumpkins and squash. The project, it's safe to say, took off. In 2010 he grew 1,700 pumpkins and more than 1,000 squash.

"I could go on and on about his work ethic and his quality standards," said John McPherson, who works at the center with Boettcher. "But the bottom line is that he is a fantastic guy. He is just always willing to help, and is very dedicated. He came in, saw a need that needed to be filled and got to work."

McPherson said that anyone interested in taking on the pumpkin project should call him at 651-437-4359.

Helping out

The Boettchers moved to River Falls in 2000 to be closer to his grandchildren. Not long after, he learned about Carpenter Nature Center and began volunteering there in 2001.

"I love outdoor work, and physical work," he said. "A lady from church suggested Carpenter. We came over here and got to work. We got sucked right in."

Boettcher had helped with about everything over the years, from helping during the maple sap run to planting 300 apple trees and the like. His wife Joyce also volunteers at the center.

"We both love the outdoors," Boettcher said. "She comes down and helps, too."

He estimates he volunteers between 600 and 700 hours a year for CNC. This is his 10th year volunteering.

He will not be retiring from volunteering. Rather, he's simply stepping away from the pumpkin project.

Agriculture is nothing new to the River Falls resident. He grew up on a farm in western Minnesota and had his hands in the dirt for much of childhood.

He eventually settled in Oshkosh, Wis., where he was a banker.