Some of our proudest stories are ones that come from our residents’ passion for supporting this city. A shining example of this is proudly displayed at Leeper Park East nestled near the edge of the St. Joseph River: the Leeper Park Rose Garden.
This beautiful array of roses is adored every spring and summer by anyone who is familiar with this somewhat hidden spot (it is called the sunken rose garden, after all). What many who admire the garden may not know, is that this project is led by an entirely volunteer–run effort called “Resurrect the Roses”.
After visiting the rose garden with his son in 2014 and noticing its unfortunate state of decline, Larry Clifford accepted a challenge from his son to do something about it. Clifford started brainstorming ways to bring the garden to life with volunteers and donated resources.
“I recruited several volunteers—friends of mine, and friends of friends,” he said. “We held a series of open meetings to come up with a plan.” He was passionate about finding a way to make the garden something truly unique.
After a year of planning, the volunteer group started work in the spring of 2015. They began by redefining the garden beds and caring for what plants could be salvaged. At the time, the rose garden was home to approximately 80 plants, many of which were unusable. Over several years, volunteers worked to save what they could and added many new plants. The garden is now home to over 180 diverse species of rose plants!
Today, there are a half-dozen volunteers, including Jeff Antkowiak – who has been involved with the project from the beginning – that visit the garden almost daily, taking meticulous care of the plants and an additional dozen who join on Sunday afternoons to assist with special projects.
What keeps these special volunteers coming back to tend to the garden? They’re Inspired by what something like this does for the community, creating a space of beauty, tranquility, and community pride. One of those special volunteers is Jeff Antkowiak, who’s been involved with the project from the very beginning.
It may also be the stories that happen at the Rose Garden that keeps volunteers coming back. Clifford remembers a specific encounter with someone while working at the rose garden one afternoon. A woman took a break near the garden’s edge and called out to him about how much she admired it.
“She explained that she was from a small town south of here and told me that her son had been in an accident and was in the ICU at Memorial Hospital,” he recalls. “She told me that she had been at his bedside for four continuous days never leaving him. His nurses had finally talked her into taking a break and suggested she come and check out the Rose Garden.”
This experience and knowing there are many more similar stories, keeps Clifford motivated.
Volunteers are an essential part of keeping our community beautiful. It’s those that pursue the improvements of neglected spaces and a team effort that lead to keeping our community beautiful, and a thriving place residents are proud to call home.
To read the entire Spring/Summer edition of Spark Magazine, click the image below.