Some months ago, several of us were at the VA Archives doing some research when Tessa Kalman (the woman knows everything about the VA history) showed us a partial Dayton Daily News article about a member of the VA Grounds crew in the early 1980s. While clearing some underbrush, Head Groundskeeper Charles Harper discovered some steps in the Grotto. Well that was all it took. He enlisted the help of the rest of the crew and a restoration began. They cleared brush and Honeysuckle (that scourge was there even then!), they replaced drainage pipes, and rebuilt part of the wall. They planted and enlisted groups from the community to come in and plant including the Dayton Philharmonic. Most groups wanted to plant annuals to celebrate a particular Holiday and the Grounds Crew did not have the time to care for them. The Grotto was on it’s way to becoming beautiful again. ….and then the dreaded budget cuts occurred.
Charles continued to work at the VA until a few years ago when he retired. We started the hunt to find Charles and because of a fluke encounter at a local Garden Center, we did! He is a font of information about the Grotto and all that the VA Grounds Crew did. He shared pictures from 1984 and quite a few vintage postcards. We are dedicating one of the new gardens to Charles Harper and the 1984 VA Grounds Crew. I can speak from experience when I say that the current Grounds Crew is just as dedicated and has individually and as a group bent over backwards to help us.
A comment by Charles rang true to me when he said “Those old Veterans must be smiling as they walk through the gardens at night”. What a lovely thought.