Leach Garden’s ‘Friends’ celebrate a quarter century of service

Here’s your invitation to look in on the party thrown by, and for, volunteers who have worked for 25 years to make this unique outer East Portland park into a natural wonderland …

Leach Garden volunteer Ernie Francisco, tells executive director Karen Young how she recruited Bette Howard to help with the garden 25 years ago.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
Leach Botanical Garden is the site of many events during the year. It’s often rented out for receptions, meetings and private parties.

But on August 25, the merriment was due to volunteers celebrating two and a half decades of service at this unique Portland park.

“Tonight, we are celebrating the 25th anniversary of the formation of Leach Garden Friends,” says Karen Young, executive director, as she welcomes us to the party, now in full sway.  “This is the group that got together and saved this garden.”

The property, located just south of SE Foster Road, on SE 122nd Avenue, was willed to the City of Portland by Mr. and Mrs Leach. “They had no heirs,” explains Young. “They wanted it to be used as a botanical garden and museum. If the city would not use it, it would go to the YMCA.”

Enjoying the evening during the 25th Anniversary “Leach Garden Friends” party are outer East Portland parks advocate Linda Robinson with Sharon and Andy Szolnoki.

“The garden wasn’t tended, and the property languished for several years,” continues Young. “A group got together and worked to save it; forming the Friends group in the process. They urged the city to support the Garden. The Parks Director at the time, Charles Jordan, listened to them. They put the organization together, and got it open to the public 25 years ago.”

Since then, although it is owned by Portland Parks & Recreation, Leach Friends have continued to operate the property.

Guitarist Margaret Slovak shares her musical gift by providing an acoustical soundtrack for the evening’s festivities.

A well-attended gathering
The patio swirls with activity and pleasant conversation, accompanied by acoustical music by guitarist Margaret Slovak.

Graphic displays of Leach history and past and present volunteers line the walls of the main room. Guests graze on refreshments amidst good company, in a beautiful setting.

Garden volunteer Nick Gianopoulos serves fellow volunteer Gabriel Weiss, a mason who helped build the brick patio, a glass of wine.

One of the celebrants we meet is long-time Lents resident Ernie Francisco. “Charlene Holsworth, who has since passed away, visited every neighbor in the area and recruited me,” she tells us. “I recruited my friend here, Bette Howard. We still love working at the Garden.”

Looking ahead
“We’re working on a master plan for the Garden,” Young says. “We hope to take this to the Portland City Council by November. The plan will involve how the property will be interpreted – as a museum. Also the upper property – we have about ten additional acres to be developed. We are working on making decisions about how we will develop that.”

Volunteer George Taylor looks at the historical display posted in the Leach house.

Some the concepts under consideration include developing an education center and children’s garden, and more demonstration sites. Also, they are studying moving the entrance east to a spot near SE 122nd and Foster Road, to make it more accessible.

You can join the 300+ active volunteers at Leach Garden and help continue the legacy of this fine natural outer East Portland attraction. Contact the office by calling (503) 823-9503 or e-mailing info@leachgarden.org.

© 2007 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News Service

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