By Linda Scherer
WINSTED, MN St. Mary’s Care Center of Winsted was a place Richard Mielke of Watertown had called home since becoming a resident there in 2006.
Mielke’s room was in the memory unit on the lower level of St. Mary’s. All of the lower level residents have access to an outside area, but Mielke had the advantage of having his room right next to the exit which led to the garden.
“We were outside all of the time,” Richard’s wife of 51 years, Janet Mielke said.
For the two summers Richard lived at St. Mary’s, he planted tomato plants in the flower garden just outside his window.
“In two years, he got one tomato,” Richard’s daughter, Dawn Shanahan said.
“That was the best thing. He put it on the ledge in his room until it rotted. He wouldn’t let anybody eat it because he had to prove he grew it in the flower box.”
Richard remained at St. Mary’s until he died May 10, 2008, at the age of 74.
“Dad had a stroke and he was disabled since 1978. He had lots of ups and downs,” Shanahan said. “He was in four different care centers and this was the only place that he ever referred to as home. Here, he was happy and smiled.”
Before Richard had died, he and his family had talked about making improvements to the scenery outside his room where the family had spent so much of their time.
“There really wasn’t anything to look at except grass and trees,” Janet said. “That was why we wanted to do something different.”
Following Richard’s death, the family agreed to make a donation to St. Mary’s in his name, honoring Richard’s wish to add something special to the garden for other residents in the memory unit.
That was when the Mielke family met the Brokls from Minnetonka. Sue Brokl’s mother, Ardis Nelson, is a resident in the memory unit at St. Mary’s, as well.
Sue was asked if she would be interested in improving the lower level outdoor area, because her husband, Tom Brokl, is a landscaper who had done some previous work at the care center.
Sue accepted the job. Her first purchase for the garden was a heavy duty bench for visitors, which she got for a really good price.
A waterfall was designed and installed by Tom, which would be the garden’s main attraction.
Many of the 150 perennials added to the garden came from the Brokls’ garden as their own donation to the project.
“Because we were kind of limited with the shade, we had to pick a lot of shade plants, but we have a lot of shade in our garden, too,” Sue said.
Before the planting, Tom came and prepared the soil and trimmed the trees, cleaning up the area.
The day of planting, Tom and Sue got additional help from their two sons, Jesse and Neil, who pitched in wherever needed.
A final touch was lighting to illuminate the garden for evening visitors.
Now that the garden is completed, residents sit out in the same spot as Richard did, but because of the donations of two families, they are able to have even more to appreciate.
The Mielke family members were very happy when they were able to see the final results of the Brokls’ efforts.
“None of this would have happened if it wouldn’t have been for them (Brokls),” Shanahan said. “It would have never gotten done.”
And every time Sue sees her mother, she gets to visit the garden, too.
“It is just enjoyable to see things out there,” Sue Brokl said, “and watch it grow. Next year it will be so much better.”