Showing they care: Volunteers spruce up Dover’s Joe B. Parks Community Garden

Thursday, May 13, 2010

DOVER — The Joe B. Parks Community Garden has been the recipient of an outpouring of support during the past month.

When news of his death at 94 years old spread, volunteers came out in droves to clean, prune and generally spruce up the riverfront park.

Combined with volunteer help during the semiannual Dover Pride Cleanup Day in April, much of the work that would have normally been done during Wednesday’s Day of Caring had already been completed.

Still, Beth Fisher, a project coordinator and close friend of Parks, had no trouble finding work for the 20 volunteers that showed up prepared to get their hands dirty during the United Way of the Greater Seacoast’s 5th annual Spring Day of Caring.

The new (and ongoing) plan: Operation Creep. Fisher jokingly made up the term to describe how much the park continues to expand beyond the borders originally defined when work began in 2007.

So on Wednesday, the volunteer crew got to work on what Fisher said will be the last extension of the park, to behind the Cocheco Park apartment complex.

Once the new plants are planted, Fisher said the staff at the apartment complex have volunteered to continue maintenance of that section of the park.

In a way, extending the park one last time is a memorial to Parks, who consistently advocated to stretch the park a little bit farther with each new year.

“We could not do this without his vision or without folks who volunteer to work on it,” Fisher said.

Carol Smack, a regular garden “tender” and also a friend of Parks, said she continues to be touched by the volunteer support for the garden.

“It’s just his (Parks’) life, his life’s work,” Smack said of the park.

Other volunteers at the park Wednesday never knew Parks, but still wanted to do what they could to pitch in to maintain the serene space downtown.

“He (Parks) sounded like quite a person and he put a lot of love and caring into this area,” said Elizabeth LeClair, a Milton resident and Master Gardener who took a day off from her job at Frisbie Memorial Hospital to participate in the Day of Caring.

“I’ve always liked downtown Dover and to do this really means a lot,” LeClair said.

The group even got some help from a four-legged volunteer — Baloo, a four-month-old Newfoundland puppy who helped the group dig up a bush that needed to be removed.

“We were trying to pull it up and he was digging elsewhere, so we just had him dig up the bush,” said Lisa Speropolous, Baloo’s owner and a Liberty Mutual employee who volunteered at the garden for the Day of Caring.

“He took care of it, he earned his keep,” she said as Baloo slept soundly in the garden.

About 1,000 volunteers representing 40 business and community groups from around the Seacoast volunteered for 56 nonprofit agencies for the Day of Caring in Dover, Exeter, Greenland, Kingston, Portsmouth, Rochester Seabrook, Strafford and Stratham.

This year’s sponsors were Liberty Mutual Insurance Group, Bottomline Technologies, Heinemann Publishing, Lonza Biologics, Newmarket International, NextEra Energy: Seabrook Station and Unitil.