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Douglas-Sarpy County Extension Master Gardener and Nebraska Certified Arborist Jim Keepers, center, owner and operator of Finders Keepers Landscaping and chairperson of the Gretna Arbor Society/Tree Board, was presented the Nebraska Association’s Arborist of the Year Award Award and the Nebraska Arborists Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award by NAA president Kevin Popken, left. Jim’s wife, Trish Keepers, is pictured right. This was the first time this association presented both awards to the same individual at the same time.

A local man’s tireless behind-the-scenes efforts and dedication to his profession were recognized last month at the state level.

Jim Keepers, chairperson of the Gretna Arbor Society/Tree Board and owner of Finders Keepers Landscaping, was presented two awards by the Nebraska Arborists Association: Arborist of the Year and the Lifetime Achievement Award.

“No doubt all of you either know this year’s Arborist of the Year nominee or know of the tireless work he does behind the scenes to make our association what it is,” Kevin Popken, president of the Nebraska Arborists Association, said during his presentation. “Looking back over past recipients, I was surprised that this individual had not received the honor to this point, until it was pointed out that it was always too difficult to keep it a secret from him due to his close involvement in ensuring others were always properly honored.

“But, for someone who has given so much to the betterment of our association for the past 20 years, since he became a Nebraska certified arborist in 2000, Arborist of the Year does not take in the full scope of Jim Keepers contribution.”

This was the first time that the association recognized the same individual with both awards simultaneously.

“I was very surprised and shocked,” Keepers said. “The other individuals who have the Lifetime Achievement Award are older than I am.

“I was very proud. I consider this my second career and I enjoy working with trees a lot. I think trees are very, very important.”

Keepers spent six years in the Navy before transferring to the Air Force, attending Navy and Air Force schools for photo, motion picture and combat camera training, which prepared him for his job of documenting military events and contingencies around the world.

He earned a Bachelor of Arts in criminal justice after 12 years of enlisted service and became a commissioned officer. In between assignments, he went on to earn a Master of Business Administration, retiring from Offutt Air Force Base in 1995 after 30 years of military service.

Keepers went on to pursue horticulture studies locally and started his landscaping business Finders Keepers Landscaping, LLC. An active Master Gardener for more than 10 years, Keepers has invested in the volunteer hours and continued education that requires. He became an arborist to broaden his knowledge.

“I just kind of fell in love with it the more work I did,” Keepers said. “The more I got around plants, I thought trees were good, different.”

Keepers also holds degrees in landscape design, nursery management and floral design.

A member of the Nebraska Nursery and Landscape Association, he has served as past president, secretary and treasurer of the NAA, past chairperson of the Douglas/Sarpy County Master Gardener Council and past board member of the Nebraska Professional Lawn Care Association.

Keepers is the chairperson of the Gretna Arbor Society/Tree Board, promoting trees within the City of Gretna through education, a tree giveaway and the planting of some 30 trees annually. He is also the chairperson of the Nebraska Great Plains Conference and NAA communications.

Keepers resides on a small acreage in Gretna with his wife Trish and their golden retriever, where he has planted several hundred trees over the past 14 years. The couple recently celebrated their 51st wedding anniversary.

“Jim, thank you for all you have done in service to your country and to this association, and for being a friend to so many of us present here,” Popken said. “It is an honor to present you with the 2019 Arborist of the Year Award as well as the Lifetime Achievement Award. No one could be more deserving.”

The Nebraska Arborist Association presents its awards in recognition of those who have made significant impact due to their commitment to arboriculture, tree planting, safety and education. Awards are presented annually during the Nebraska Great Plains Conference, held in late January at the Cornhusker Hotel in Lincoln.

The Arborist of the Year Award is only given to NAA members whose principle work is done within the state of Nebraska.

This award recognizes an outstanding arborist who has had a positive impact on the association due to their strong commitment to arboriculture and tree care in Nebraska.

Criteria includes personal commitment to the advancement of arboriculture, safety, tree planting and care; large contributions to the advancement of safety, skills and science; longtime commitment over their career to the betterment of the Nebraska Arborists Association; engagement of people to participate in volunteer activities within the industry or their local community, and recognition for their leadership, volunteerism and service to the association.

The award is presented annually alongside the Educator of the Year Award. The Arborist of the Year receives a framed certificate and a brown coat with the NAA logo on it.

The Lifetime Achievement Award is the highest honor granted by NAA. The award recognizes an outstanding individual’s service to the association by advancing the principles, ethics and practice of arboriculture in Nebraska. This award is not given every year.

The Lifetime Achievement Award recognizes the individual’s life work over a significant period of time, honoring great personal commitment to arboriculture, safety, tree planting and care. The individual possesses the ability to engage others in arboriculture, tree planting, environment, safety, education or research, as well as the ability to engage professionals throughout the green industry.

The individual — recognized as a role model to others within Nebraska — has made large or significant contributions to the profession, displaying unique or extraordinary contributions and commitment.

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