Gardens of good deeds: Woman who honors veterans gets payback
BY SUSAN DEMAR LAFFERTY email@example.com October 10, 2013 8:42PM
Phyllis Powell (in front, second from right) stands with the Home Depot volunteers who transformed her garden, making it easier for her to maintain. Left of Powell is state Rep. Natalie Manley (D-Crest Hill) and (at right) Beth Armour, manager of Homer Glen Home Depot. | Supplied photo
Updated: November 12, 2013 6:29AM
For 25 years, Phyllis Powell has volunteered her time and energy, her patriotic heart and green thumb to helping create and maintain the Crest Hill Veterans Memorial Garden.
Whether planting flags on Memorial Day and Veterans Day, or planting petunias around the granite monuments, Powell often was accompanied by her husband Joe, a Korean War veteran.
On Thursday, a team of Home Depot volunteers tended to Powell’s garden, creating a new low-maintenance perennial garden at her Root Street home, as a way of giving back to her.
It was an emotional day for Powell, who lost her husband a year and a half ago. Thursday would have been their 60th wedding anniversary.
“This is for Joe,” she said, as she recounted the dance where she met her then-future spouse (“I didn’t like him at first”) and the brutal conditions he endured as an Army sergeant while in Korea.
“Oh, my gosh. This is overwhelming. I’m in awe,” Powell said, dabbing at the tears in her eyes.
Even after Joe’s death, Powell has continued tending to the memorial.
“It’s something I believe in. It’s a community thing that brings people together,” she said.
On this day, people came together for her.
Within hours, Home Depot volunteers ripped out the eight evergreen bushes in front of her house, built a retaining wall and planted easy-to-care-for perennials — purple, yellow and pink — as directed by Diana Lash, master gardener from the Alsip Home Depot. They also cleaned up Powell’s side yard and added more colorful plants and mulch.
“Never mind what I like,” she told the crew. “Do what you want. This is your playground today.”
Powell was part of a committee that created the Crest Hill Veterans Memorial Garden — which honors all Crest Hill residents who served in the Armed Forces, plus police.
“She transformed that area into something beautiful. Whenever anything was needed, Phyllis stepped up,” said state Rep. Natalie Manley (D-Crest Hill), who helped Home Depot find a deserving candidate in its ongoing mission to help veterans.
Manley said when she called Crest Hill Mayor Ray Soliman, “He said, ‘I know the perfect person.’ ”
“I couldn’t think of a better person,” said Beth Armour, manager of the Homer Glen Home Depot.
The memorial garden was dedicated in 1988 and today holds 1,900 names.
Powell likely knows most of them, since she knocked on doors in search of deserving veterans.
“Back then, there was no Internet,” Manley said. “She went door to door to get names. For 25 years, she and Joe not only tended to the garden, but planted flags on every holiday and made it what it is today.”
“I am blessed. There are probably other deserving people who don’t get noticed,” Powell said, adding that she prefers to “hide in the shadows.”
“It’s a beautiful memorial. Just go sit and look at the names and realize what they have done for you,” she said.