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September 26, 2012

Volunteers hope Veterans Garden will be place for reflection for years to come

By K. Michelle Moran
C & G Staff Writer

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Volunteers hope Veterans Garden will be place for reflection for years to come
The new Veterans Garden at the Grosse Pointe War Memorial — organized by members of the nonprofit Grosse Pointe Garden Center Inc. — is now an inviting spot for visitors, with new plants, benches and a pathway.

GROSSE POINTE FARMS — Choked with weeds, dead plants and a treacherously uneven stone pathway, the entrance to the Grosse Pointe War Memorial hill and trial gardens was an unwelcoming sight for participants of programs like the summer concert series.

But a group of local women saw past the ugliness to what could be. And those tireless volunteers, most of whom had personal connections to the military, decided to honor those who’ve served their country by creating what is now the new Veterans Garden.

In 2009, Grosse Pointe Garden Center members Lynn Lutomski-Kiley and Mary Northcutt suggested transforming the former Hillside Garden and Millie’s Way into a garden dedicated to veterans. Marieke Allen of Grosse Pointe Farms, who was president of the Grosse Pointe Garden Center in 2009 and chaired the Veterans Garden Committee, said that an elm on the hill had died, leaving behind a large stump and a garden of shade plants now exposed to the blazing sun.

“The hillside looked simply awful,” Allen said.

The volunteers brainstormed and came up with a plan that involved the help of a landscape architect and installation of an irrigation system, with an estimated price tag of about $30,000-$50,000, Allen said. But the poor economic conditions made that little more than a pipe dream.

Undeterred, Allen said they reached out to local master gardeners, and several responded, including two — Alaine Bush and Debbie Graffius — who would go on to work consistently on the garden, volunteering on their days off, Allen said. It took a couple of years just to clear out the weeds and make way for other plantings, she explained.

After hauling in countless wheelbarrows full of soil and mulch, and hours of backbreaking weeding and planting, the Veterans Garden finally took shape. Visitors this summer encountered a garden with a stable, accessible new pathway, benches and lush new plants donated by another local master gardener, Mil Hurley. Like the other gardens, the Veterans Garden is open to the public.

“The hope is that people will come and sit and relax and reflect on what veterans have done for our freedom,” Allen said.

Allen knows all too well the high cost of that freedom. Her husband served on a Naval ship stationed in the Pacific Ocean during World War II, and she is a survivor of that terrible war, having been a young girl in occupied Holland. She remembers nearly starving along with her neighbors, until the American soldiers arrived.

“These people did this at tremendous (personal) peril,” Allen said of the American troops. “If they hadn’t done that, Hitler would have destroyed Western Europe. If it hadn’t been for the (American) troops, I wouldn’t be here today.”

The War Memorial honored those who worked on the Veterans Garden at a ceremony June 20. It was a night tinged with sadness, because Lutomski-Kiley was gravely ill at the time. Allen said Lutomski-Kiley’s gardening group, the Grosse Pointe Shores Garden Club, dedicated a memorial bench in the garden to her in June. She died in July.

“She saw her dream come true, (but) the whole thing was kind of bittersweet,” Allen acknowledged.

Lutomski-Kiley’s father, U.S. Army Cpl. Harry Joseph Lutomski, a World War II prisoner of war who died in 2000, will also be honored in the garden, with an engraved granite bench.

Those who want to pay tribute to a living or deceased veteran can order engraved brick pavers, which will be personalized and placed in the garden. Pavers can be purchased for a $250 donation. Allen said the first batch of pavers is expected to arrive and be installed this fall. Other contribution levels are also available, and gifts of any amount are welcome. War Memorial President Mark Weber said funds raised would help maintain the garden in the future.

This project is something that’s been discussed for some time, War Memorial Community Relations Director Teri Carroll said.

Weber concurred.

“It’s something that’s been in the works for a number of years,” he said. “It’s a project that’s been wonderful from the beginning, and we hope to continue it for many years.”

Both praised the volunteers for all they’ve done.

Besides serving as a lasting tribute to veterans, the project retains a nod to the woman for whom Millie’s Way was named — Mildred Allen, a volunteer who worked on the trial gardens years ago. Her daughter, Tracy Allen, paid for a bench in her mother’s honor, and the garden includes a Millie’s Way sign to remind visitors of her contributions to the gardens.

“We’re not relatives, but we certainly have a common interest,” Marieke Allen said with a smile.

Volunteers interested in working on the garden are needed as well, but those with gardening experience are preferred, Allen said. GPGC members don’t need to be current residents of the Pointes, but do need a connection to the community, such as having been a longtime resident, Allen said. The GPGC isn’t a garden club; Allen said it’s an umbrella organization over local garden clubs. The nonprofit’s major annual fundraiser is a garden tour.

All Veterans Garden donations are tax deductible. Checks should be made payable to the Grosse Pointe Garden Center Inc. and can be sent to Grosse Pointe Garden Center, attention: Veterans Garden, 32 Lake Shore Road, Grosse Pointe Farms, MI 48236. For more information, call (313) 881-7511, ext. 306, or email gpgardenctr@warmemorial.org.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer K. Michelle Moran at kmoran@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1047.