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March 30, 2014

Grand opening for veterans accessible garden

MILLEDGEVILLE — Courtesy of community donations and volunteer sweat equity, residents at the Georgia War Veterans Home (GWVH) now have an accessible garden space.

The official ribbon cutting and dedication of the veterans garden at 2249 Vinson Highway is scheduled for 11 a.m. Saturday, April 5.

The Georgia Military College Color Guard, Col. Fred Van Horn (Ret.) and a bagpiper will highlight the day. A history of the project will be relayed as well.

Recently, the facility reinvigorated the garden club, but veterans didn’t have a traditional space to work. The nearly 15-member club yearned for some fruit and vegetables.

This project, sponsored by the Milledgeville First United Methodist Men’s Club, was initiated last September.

Retired Lt. Col. Jim Haskins, Veterans Garden Project director, and wife Jane Thompson Barnard, whose 94-year-old father Earl K. Thompson resides at the GWVH, helped organize the effort.

The project includes 12 raised beds varying from 2 to 4 feet high.

GWVH Recreation Services Director Wanda Blackwell said the majority of the older vets grew up on the farm with gardening as second nature.

Their conditions make traditional gardening difficult.

The raised beds help them out, where they can easily access it.

Fencing and an appealing layout featuring a sign will make the veterans’ garden a point of pride. The garden is functional and attractive with a concrete walkway from the parking lot nearby.

Haskins said one of the beds is already planted. The Milledgeville Garden association inserted 12 fruit trees behind the veterans garden.

The Central State Hospital Local Redevelopment Authority, by way of Bruce Vaughn, approved the project and donated $1,000. T-Bones Nursery, Lowe’s and Fowler-Flemister Concrete all gave either free or discounted materials such as potting soil, fencing materials and walkway gravel.

T&S Hardwoods donated 96 untreated white oak boards for individual garden construction. The City of Milledgeville delivered the wood bed borders.

The United Methodist Men gave a cash donation and helped organize workers.

“It was such a group effort, and there were so many people who came out and labored,” Haskins said. “It was hard work.”

Regardless of the garden yield, success means the war heroes feel better each day. Blackwell said this offers an outlet to make them feel productive and a part of the community again.

Veteran Wayne Mason was a gardening pioneer several years ago that used this same space for a smaller operation.

Mason is pleased with the new version and has already eyed a space for turnips.

“We didn’t expect this,” he said. “This is a lot better. A lot of us old guys like to get out there and piddle.”

The veterans could always use some volunteer help to make best use of the special complex at the GWVH.

“Many of the residents are in wheelchairs and can’t wheel themselves, but if somebody goes up and brings them down, it’s like they aren’t just stuck away and forgotten,” Barnard said last fall. “Many of them can’t communicate effectively. They really respond to a smile and pat on the shoulder and just being able to get outside.”

The event honors all veterans as well as celebrates the partnership between Georgia Military College cadets and the GWVH.

“We are excited how the veterans garden will be used going into the future, especially the relationships that will be forged among those at the Veterans Home, GMC cadets and others in our community,” Haskins said.

The veterans garden is contiguous to the parking lot directly behind the Wood Building, closest to the water tower.

Lunch, prepared by the United Methodist men, will be served in the nearby Birdsong Building when the ceremony concludes.

For planning purposes, interested attendees may RSVP no later than March 31 by calling Haskins at 478-295-2363 or by emailing jimhaskins@charter.net

Individuals may also participate by “adopting” a veteran and working with that veteran in the garden or assisting the trip outside.

GMC cadets are part of the future ongoing veterans garden activism.

Expected popularity with the veterans could force garden expansion.

“If the demand is there, we can expand,” the project director said.

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