Construction is underway at the Robert J. Dole VA Medical Center for the new Dole VA Memorial Peace Garden. The purpose of the garden is to provide an opportunity for therapeutic gardening for Veterans, their families, and employees. It will provide a restorative environment that Veterans and employees can enjoy during their breaks and/or lunch period. In addition, interactive raised bed garden spaces will demonstrate and educate visitors about the economical, nutritional, and psychological benefits of food gardening. The Memorial Peace Garden is located just North of Building 5 (Behavioral Health) and will be completed by Spring 2013.
Where did the idea for the Garden come from?
The idea for the garden originated with Laura Nutter. Nutter’s father, A/1C Donald J. Kolar, was a patient at the Robert J. Dole VA Medical Center for years, and had been helped through several health crises. Nutter recalled, “He used to tell me they took great care of him and often said how much he appreciated the nurses and doctors there.” There was a time when he stayed overnight and accidently left his favorite watch in his room. When he got home and discovered it missing, he called about it and found that they had it safe and sound for him at the nurses’ station ready to pick up. On another occasion, Nutter remembered that when her father returned from the medical center he gave her money to go buy donuts for the nurses’ who had watched over him.
His death in early 2011 left many unanswered questions for Nutter, as well as feelings of pain and guilt which are common in many suicide survivors. Kolar was an avid gardener, so she thought that the best way to honor him would be to designate a small area on the grounds of the Dole VA Medical Center with flowers that others might be able to enjoy as well. According to Nutter, “His potted annuals and raised bed vegetable gardens were the talk of the neighborhood.” Gardening took Kolar back to his childhood days of working on his family farm and gave him a comforting hobby which shortened the long days of summer. “He was always willing to share his gardening advice with anyone who had an interest and he was often at my front door with the latest crop of cucumbers and tomatoes.” exclaimed Nutter.
From idea, to reality!
“Earlier this year, when I went back to the Dole VA Medical Center to tell them my idea (which was graciously welcomed), we walked the grounds looking for a suitable area for a garden that would be frequented the most visitors and staff. It also needed to be located near a convenient water supply. It was then that I learned that the Behavioral Health building would soon undergo renovations. In light of my dad’s death, it seemed appropriate to choose an area that would help others in pain and anguish, and one that might use nature and beauty to heal the inner soul. The Behavioral Health department has a tremendously important mission of helping many Veterans deal with, and address, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, giving them a safe and loving place to confront their inner conflicts,” stated Nutter.
Nutter was then introduced to a nurse, Heidi Barrus RN, BSN in Behavioral Health who was familiar with a therapy being used at other VA Medical Center and cancer centers. The basis of the therapy consisted of a well-designed area that would allow therapeutic gardening for patients. “I was offered a chance to meet with her to see if we could both benefit the Veterans served at the Dole VA by combining our ideas.” Nutter said. “Our meeting that day was brief, but when it was over, we each had a new friend and a common goal. It was a goal that was larger than either of us had planned; a “therapeutic” and “memorial” garden space.” The partnership blended perfectly, and Barrus was able to negotiate the approval process for the space while Nutter approached companies and individuals outside of the Dole VA for donations and assistance.
How does this garden fit into the bigger picture?
When Barrus was asked how the garden fits into the bigger picture, she responded “It gives back.” She continued, “Our men and women Veterans, along with their families have sacrificed so much to serve our country and protect our freedom, and this garden is a way for us to show our thanks and appreciation. The garden will offer an opportunity for Veterans, their family members, and employees to dig in the dirt, to bury their troubles from the day, and to watch their efforts grow wonderful vegetables and flowers in the raised beds accessible to all.”
The tranquility of the garden will provide restoration to all visitors, some just needing a break from appointments in the hospital, some needing a few moments of fresh air, and some just needing a place of comfort to swap stories and visit with others- a place of connection. In addition, the memorial area will provide a place of peace to remember those that have passed, and celebrate their lives. All too often, hospitals can appear to be big, cold, scary places- this is just one way we are working to welcome our Veterans home, to know that they are appreciated, to engage them, and ultimately to improve the health and well being of the Veterans that we are honored to serve.
“It has been a slow and deliberate process, accumulating volunteers for garden maintenance, donors for different elements needed, designing memorial brick order forms and a website, seeking construction advice as well as traveling to Gainesville, Florida to see the Honor Center Therapeutic Garden. Along the way, we have met many generous people who have encouraged us in the process and spurred us on. We are both committed to helping others through this endeavor. I can’t think of a better way to honor the memory of my dad than to make it easier for others to reach out and receive the help they need to heal.” stated Nutter.
More details about the Dole VA Memorial Peace Garden as well as information on volunteering, donating and purchasing memorial paver bricks can be found online at: http://www.wichita.va.gov/peace_garden.asp