By Jill Keppeler
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — Others may look at it and see an empty lot like any other.
Nancy Rolando looks at it and sees a dream.
Earlier this week, the City of Tonawanda woman stood at one end of the small expanse of green next to Stamps Bar, at Main and Seymour streets across from City of Tonawanda Post Office, and surveyed the grassy area she hopes to turn into the Tonawanda Community Peace Garden.
“It doesn’t look very hopeful, does it?” she said. “I know; It’s not that great, it’s not that big, but there are other places gardens flourish.”
While the area still needs, well, almost everything, Rolando held a ceremonial ribbon-cutting at Monday, the beginning of Earth Week. Mayor Ronald Pilozzi and church representatives were in attendance.
It all started last year when Rolando was missing the big garden she used to have at her Shawnee Road home, before she retired from the Post Office, downsized and moved to a small home near her former workplace.
“I was sitting on my front porch last year and I was thinking, ‘I wish I had a garden.’ I looked across the street and thought, ‘I wonder if Tom would let me (use) that.’ “
In October, she sent a letter asking for permission to use the space to Tom Goetz, the owner of Stamps. To her surprise, she received an affirmative — and began planning for the Tonawanda Community Peace Garden
Goetz confirmed that he granted permission for Rolando to use the space, but gives all the credit for the plans to her.
“Some people refer to it as a community garden,” he said. “Others refer to it as God’s garden. And yours truly refers to it as Nancy’s garden.
“I give her all the credit in the world.”
Rolando has pages of drawings and notes for the garden. After Goetz’s response, she sent information to 10 churches in the city, offering use of 4-foot-by-8-foot plots of land.
Eight of the 10 churches, including First Presbyterian Church, St. Francis Church, Salem United Church of Christ, Bethesda Full Gospel Tabernacle, Salvation Army, Immanuel Lutheran Church, Grove Street Christian Church and United Methodist, responded in the affirmative.
At First Presbyterian Church, Rolando’s home church, Pastor Ed Hoener — whom she cited as one of her inspirations — said he feels very positive about the plans.
“Our conviction here is that being a community means being out there among people, not hiding behind the walls of the church,” he said. “When we consider that, we think we have to do something concrete to make a difference. That’s really the bottom line. We’re trying to be part of the community around us in a way that makes some sense.”
As part of the project, Rolando visited Salem Preschool and read the book, “The Little Seeds That Grew,” then helped the children plant sunflower seeds in cups. The seedlings are to be planted with tiger lilies at the side of the lot, she said.
Rosanne Will, lead teacher at the preschool, said the students have been caring for the plants and enjoying watching them grow.
“I think it’s a great idea,” Will said. “I hope it works out for her. It’s a big undertaking, but it’s so great for the community.”
Slowly but surely, Rolando has been gathering donations for her project, from companies including Walgreens, Imperial Fence, Morningstar Concrete and Bush Topsoil. While it might take years for all her garden dreams to see fruition, she has big plans, including a harvest potluck in Clinton Park for the community as a whole.
Mostly, though, she just wants to inspire people.
“I think that’s what I see here. Community. Not us vs. them,” she said. “I want people who don’t get it ... to kinda get it.
“I want them ... to say, ‘hey, maybe I could do that.’ “Hoener, of First Presbyterian Church, echoed her words.
“We’re hoping that it’s just going to make some connections,” he said. “Even churches in Tonawanda don’t talk to each other much. This is another way to say we’re all on the same page. Let’s celebrate that.
“Every first step is a small step.”FOR MORE INFORMATION For more information on the Tonawanda Community Peace Garden, call Nancy Rolando at 743-0564 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Contact reporter Jill Keppeler at 693-1000, ext. 4313.