“A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.”
I turn to this proverb often when I think about the immense struggles and challenges that were faced by Volney Rogers around 1890 as he attempted to convince an entire community of the importance of establishing and protecting a natural place of respite in an ever-industrializing landscape. The creation of Youngstown Township Park, as it was known at the time, went counter to the opinion of many of the day’s leaders and yet it was a popular hit among the public for whom it provided recreational activities and an opportunity for rest. Rogers’ work to protect this gift “for then, for now, and for the evercoming future” was never done. The rest of his life was spent fighting to keep the park safe from development and from environmental damage.
I appreciate, too, the simple and humble way in which Elizabeth Fellows, half a century after Volney Rogers, was inspired by the “natural beauty of Mill Creek Park” and, in her last will and testament, donated a plot of land with the direction that it “shall become a beauty spot to be enjoyed by all.” Being the farsighted woman she was, she also donated the remainder of her assets “in order that the creation and upkeep of the Gardens may not be a burden.” She, like Volney Rogers, understood that the job of planning for tomorrow is never done. Although she would never experience the joy of visiting Fellows Riverside Gardens on a warm, sunny day, she had a vision of a creating a better future for others.
Recently, I had the opportunity to work on another project in the MetroParks that was possible only because of the foresight of a group of people whom I had never met, a group who came together some 50 years ago with a plan to plant a grove of sugar maple trees and the hope that one day, when the trees were mature, they could be tapped and made into maple syrup. Although their identities seem to be lost to time, their gift to the community is only now, half a century hence and by people they’ve never met, being realized through the volunteer efforts and the collaborative spirit of a community working together for a better future.
The common theme through all of these efforts is shared again in the vision of a non-profit volunteer group dedicated to the promotion, preservation, and improvement of Fellows Riverside Gardens. That vision of Friends of Fellows Riverside Gardens, established a quarter century ago, has been realized, strengthened, and supported by scores of volunteer board members over the past quarter century who, together with all of the members, share a deep-rooted belief that the future of this place matters and that it should provide delight to those who experience it. To be fully effective, we must also remind ourselves that we conduct our important work not for ourselves, but for the generations after us who will one day sit under the shade of the trees we are planting today.
I welcome everyone to join the Friends of Fellows Riverside Gardens in that pursuit and to become ambassadors for this beauty spot!