Board Members

John Bartel
John was born in south central Kansas, lived on a farm that produced wheat, corn and  beef cattle.  The farm also had a large garden, which the whole family worked. He attended Bethel College, studying Social Sciences and math. After graduation, he moved to Topeka and worked for the Menninger Foundation for 35 years. Starting as a child care worker and becoming teacher/assistant principal.  John attended graduate school at Emporia. earning a degree in School Psychology with post graduate work in school administration and special education.  After working at Menninger, John served as principal and teacher in the Auburn Washburn District in the area of special education prior to retirement. He has been married for 47 years, and has two children and an international son.  John has been active with community gardens for a number of years and is busy gardening with the group at the Hi-crest community garden.

Catherine Chmidling (Secretary)
Catherine was born and raised in Atchison, KS, and attended Kansas State, University of Maine, and University of Missouri. She grew up with a family garden she didn’t appreciate, and took up gardening as a stress reliever during graduate school. She has participated in community gardens in Columbia, MO, Omaha, NE, and Topeka, and finds joy in the creativity of cooking what’s been harvested and the unique wealth of home-canned goodies in the pantry.

Constancio Garay
Consti arrived in the United States from Bolivia in August 1981. He received his BA in Teaching Foreign Languages in La Paz and taught six years in Bolivia before coming to The University of Kansas with a Fulbright Scholarship to do Masters work in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages. He taught ESL and Spanish for Topeka Public Schools and for junior colleges in North-East Kansas for 19 years. He now works as a bilingual family advocate at Sheldon Head Start. Consti joined VIDA as a volunteer teacher in Fall of 2007, and has been coordinating VIDA ESL program ever since.  Consti is currently the programs committee chair and Executive Director. He has received two education awards, one given by the Martin Luther King, Jr. “Living the Dream” Foundation,  and one from MANA de Topeka Latina organization. Consti is married and has two children. He resides in Topeka, and spends much of his time in the VIDA community garden.

Diana Hershberger (Founding Member)
Diana Hershberger was born in Philadelphia, Pa.  After her father graduated from college, the family moved to California for his job at Fresno State University teaching Psychiatric Nursing. Her mother was a public health nurse. Both of Diana’s parents grew up on farms and loved to garden and be outside since an early age . Her family always had lots of flowers, fruit trees and vegetable gardens in their small yards when living in town. Anything will grow in the California climate, so she tried everything she could think of.

She went to Hesston College in Hesston, Kans. for two years, then to Emporia State University, and completed her master’s degree at Washburn University in Special Education, teaching 3–5-year-old children in the public schools.

Her Mennonite Church here in Topeka wanted to start a Voluntary Service Unit (VS) here in town. The VS unit opened in 1997, and one of the first youths to volunteer for a two-year service worked with the Kansas Rural Center starting collaboration between urban agriculture methods. The church started the Hi-Crest Community Garden, located just south of 37th and Colfax, as an outreach to the local community, as well as to the at-risk population in that area. The VS unit has since closed, but the church continues to reach out to the local community through gardening. The garden has “family plots” and an area of community space where produce is grown and donated to local food pantries — especially to I Care Food Pantry at 29th and Michigan, which is in the same neighborhood.

Diana is a founding member of Topeka Common Ground, Inc. and has been a member of the Board off and on since its beginning.

Brenda Jarboe (Vice-President)
Brenda Jarboe is a retired Realtor and has worked for K-State Research and Extension — Shawnee County as a Nutrition Educator and Community Garden Network Coordinator through the SNAP-Ed program since 2016. She joined our board at that time.  Besides teaching nutrition to SNAP eligible individuals throughout Shawnee County, she works hard to coordinate Community Gardening throughout Shawnee County with our partner, K-State Research and Extension. She is available to answer your Community Gardening questions or speak to your group about starting a community garden. Please contact her at If you would like to join the Shawnee County SNAP-Ed Garden to Plate Community Garden/Urban Farming listserv to receive periodic updates and information about gardening, please click the link and ask to be added.

Barb LaClair
Barb was born and raised in Topeka, and has been an avid gardener from childhood. She is a retired health research analyst. During her working years, she was actively involved in promoting healthy eating and reducing hunger and food insecurity in Kansas, as well as conducting community food system assessments for several local food policy councils in the state. 

Rosemary Menninger (Founding Member)

Judi Salyer  (President)
Judi is retired from the Kansas State Department of Education in the Child Nutrition and Wellness division after working as Body Venture Manager for 17 years. While working there, she learned the importance of eating nutritional foods and getting plenty of physical activity. Growing your own garden can provide both. She believes Topeka Common Ground can help individuals and families establish community gardens which in turn increases the likelihood of better health of all involved. She is currently involved with the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Topeka Community Garden.

Stan Voth  (Treasurer)
Stan retired following a long career in information systems development and public school teaching.  He now has plenty of time to engage in enjoyable pursuits including traveling, playing tennis, gardening and involvement in local social service and religious organizations.  Stan appreciates participating in Topeka Common Ground–engaging with those who have a common interest in gardening and helping to promote public gardening. Stan is active in the Hi-Crest community garden.