Your Neighbor: Meet Julie Zenger
By Mandy Haggerson
For the Clemmons Courier
Julie Zenger spent her childhood in the Baltimore, Maryland, area as the youngest of three children. “I did a lot of the usual sports that most kids did growing up,” recalls Zenger, which included softball and cheerleading. “What I also developed early in life was my love for gardening,” says Zenger. “When my grandparents came to visit, my grandfather would do all the gardening at our house. I would tag along and really enjoyed it and my time with him.”
Zenger enjoyed learning about gardening so much, that when she was choosing where to attend college, her grandfather suggested finding a school where she could focus on horticulture. “I knew at that time the University of Maryland was bigger than I would have liked. I loved the mountains in Blacksburg, Virginia, and the smaller-town feel of campus back then at Virginia Polytechnic and State University. It has grown considerably since I attended in 1985, but when I was a student it did have a nice college town feel,” explains Zenger.
Zenger also appreciated the tie to the community that she experienced while attending Virginia Tech. “I participated in Young Life originally when I was living in Baltimore and loved that there was a strong presence in the community of Blacksburg. It was through Young Life that I really began my relationship and journey with Christ. Having that program during college really helped me feel connected to the community as well,” mentions Zenger.
Another relationship that was strengthened during her time in college was one she had started before leaving for her freshman year. Her future husband, Jeff, had also been active in both horticulture and Young Life, just as Julie had been. “Jeff was four years older than me, so he had moved back to Baltimore when I first started college, so we did long-distance dating. It was nice though because we were able to still grow up on our own and explore our interests, but be a couple,” says Zenger.
Jeff and Julie were married two weeks after Julie graduated from Virginia Tech. “I had made sure during high school that I had explored careers afforded to those with degrees in horticulture so I knew what I could potentially do with it,” says Zenger. She utilized her degree to work in various positions at florists, nurseries, and in landscaping doing design work. “We were newlyweds living in a rowhouse in Baltimore, so it was tough to do much gardening at home, and we knew that we wanted land and a place for our future kids to grow up and experience. Our first child, Noah (24) was born while we lived in Baltimore, but we realized we needed to move as we planned to continue expanding our family,” explains Zenger.
Jeff and Julie had friends that had lived in Winston-Salem. “We loved it as soon as we came here,” says Zenger. “We moved here in 1997 and have loved it so much.” The Zengers added Savannah (22), Ben (20) and Emma (18) to their family. “I was fortunate that I was able to stay home with the kids while Jeff worked outside the home. He was very supportive, and I appreciated that very much,” notes Zenger. “It was very important for us to emphasize to our kids the value of family. We made sure to have family dinners together, go to church on Sundays, and also to teach our kids to discern how to say no and choose what opportunities were best for them.”
Zenger even spent several years teaching the children at home. “The years that I homeschooled we made sure we took trips to places like the Dominican Republic and New Zealand (where Jeff’s family was for awhile),” says Zenger.
Zenger wouldn’t trade her time raising her children for anything in the world. “It’s true what most people say about it being the toughest yet most rewarding job in the world,” says Zenger. “We are now empty nesters and I treasure that precious time raising them when they were younger,” reflects Zenger. She stays busy visiting with her children, helping do wedding flowers for people, and working on her land. “We have a wanna-be farm,” jokes Zenger. We have several gardens that I get to keep up with. I’d like to potentially find a way to share my love for horticulture with others and help encourage other people to garden. Now that the kids are grown, I’ve considered what that might look like.”
Zenger also likes to encourage others to grow in their faith too. “I’m still very involved with Young Life, and it’s incredible to see how much it has evolved. It has expanded to include more age ranges, and I think it’s fantastic. It includes teen moms, middle and high school students, college kids and students with disabilities,” explains Zenger. She also shares her connection to Christ by teaching children at Salem Chapel.
Our neighbor reminds us that growing can mean many different things in our journey of life. If you’re intentional about where and how you are most happy you can also find great meaning and purpose. As Audrey Hepburn once noted,” To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.”