STORY BY EMMA LOCKWOOD | IMAGES BY NOLAN KRESNAK
When it comes to the world of high achievement, what accomplishments come to mind? Olympians have collected around 5,000 gold medals. Everest has been scaled by around 4,000 climbers. Nearly 2,000 Americans have found their way to the United States Senate and 833 have boarded the Space Shuttle and blasted into outer space.
Mindy Charron is no stranger to high places, but her climb through life hasn’t been strapped to a rocket. In Mindy’s words, “It’s been a little more like climbing a tree - branch by branch.”
In April, Mindy joined an exclusive club of 466 people across the globe who have been recognized as a Board Certified Master Arborist.
What Does it Mean to Be a Master Arborist?
Mindy is one of only six Master Arborists in Iowa and the first woman. This achievement was the culmination of nearly a decade of work and study that tested Mindy’s mental, emotional and physical commitment in a manner that few other professional designations could.
The final exam tests on 27 different texts and multimedia sources that range from esoteric titles such as “Abiotic Disorders of Landscape Plants - A Diagnostic Guide” to practical, hands-on guides such as “The Art and Science of Practical Rigging.”
“Organic chemistry was definitely my favorite class,” Mindy said without any hint of sarcasm. Organic chemistry is the study of the composition and reactions of carbon compounds. Organic compounds factor into an enormous range of applications including pharmaceuticals, petrochemicals, foods and explosives. In academic circles, the course is considered the toughest in the undergraduate pre-med curriculum, and rumored to be the course that sends more pre-med students to law school than any other.
“But learning to drive a skid loader was pretty fun too,” she added with a smile.
Finding her Passion for Trees
Mindy was the youngest of three children, and raised by her mother in Polk City, Iowa. Her childhood home was full of love; but like any home with three children and a single mom trying to pull everything together, things were occasionally chaotic.
Behind the house was a huge, 45-foot tall Catalpa tree.
“It was the perfect tree for climbing,” Mindy said. “The branches were opposite each other all the way up, so I could climb to the very top just like I was on a ladder.”
“When the world got loud, it was a quiet place for me to go sit quietly and be with the birds,” she said.
From the top of the tree, Mindy had a view over Polk City and out across the Iowa countryside. Anyone who has perched at the top of a tree for more than a moment knows that an endless vista provides the kindling for ambition. It’s impossible to look out over the surface of the earth without questioning what your contribution to it might be.
“Central Iowa has more than 220 different types of trees and shrubs,” Mindy said, “and includes trees that are at all phases of the life cycle from seedlings to trees that are more than 100 years old. When you get up above it and you can really see the canopy, it’s incredible.”
After graduating from North Polk High School, Mindy’s afternoons at the top of trees became somewhat more limited as she worked to make a living at a local printing shop. Mindy is too practical to get swept up in chasing a girlhood fantasy to save the trees, but as she grew into her late twenties she found herself driving by that old Catalpa tree more and more.
“Just to see how it was doing,” she said.
The Education Behind Becoming a Master Arborist
Then at 28, Mindy took the plunge and went back to school to pursue a degree in commercial horticulture. Working to pay her way through school, Mindy didn’t sacrifice time at the library. She took pride in setting the curve in her courses, and worked hard to keep her name on the Dean’s List and President’s List. After finishing her commercial horticulture degree she narrowed her area of study to trees and became a Certified Arborist.
Along the way, Mindy got married. Her husband started a landscaping company and the newlyweds teamed up to grow the business. Mindy rejected the idea that her gender or her status as the owner’s wife would have any impediment on the work that she would perform for the company. She quickly mastered the operation of the implements of the trade, including bucket trucks, air spades, chippers, skid loaders, end loaders and wide-area mowers.
“I always hated it when a woman would say that the equipment was too heavy or that there was some type of work that she couldn’t do,” Mindy said. “So I made sure that I understood the operation and basic mechanics of all of our equipment and that I knew how to perform every job, from simple things like mowing, to complex jobs like tree injections. I never wanted a customer to perceive that my gender had anything to do with me getting a job done quickly and correctly.”
After finishing her horticulture degree and spending five years working in the field as a Certified Arborist, Mindy began to study for the Master Arborist exam. She was a working mom with two daughters and a busy husband, but that didn’t provide any excuse for her. It just meant that there would be more early mornings and late nights as she worked her way through the volumes and volumes of exam material.
“The textbook on plant appraisal was the worst of it,” Mindy said. “I had to read that one twice.”
“I am much more interested in planting trees, helping them grow and helping them get healthy when they’re sick. How can you put a price on a tree that’s a hundred years old? It’s priceless.”
Today, Mindy oversees Perficut’s tree health department, leading a team of professionals who are dedicated to maintaining the health of central Iowa’s tree canopy.
“Working with Perficut is a dream come true for me,” Mindy said. “I’ve been given an opportunity to work with the biggest companies in the area and with residential customers who have some of the most beautiful trees in the country.”
“The emotional value of the canopy shouldn’t be underestimated. Study after study shows us that people are happier when they have lush green spaces with lots of trees. We also know that healthy trees improve property values and make homes easier to sell.”
“All of my clients understand that,” Mindy said. “People love their trees here. And there is no better feeling in the world than visiting a new customer who has a problem with a tree and telling them, ‘We can fix that.’”
Next year, Mindy will become the President of the Iowa Arborist Association. It appears the tree that she has been climbing is still growing.
For more information about Mindy and our tree health programs, visit our Tree Health services page or request a free tree inspection.