• Originally published in the Kane County Chronicle on Sept. 10, 2008
ELBURN – Paul Wdowicki doesn’t want to see his garden go down the path that he sees other remembrances of Sept. 11 going.
Slowly wilting away.
So he is trying to do something about the garden he built to honor firefighters who died because of Sept. 11 and remembrances in general.
Wdowicki, 76, of Elburn, will be hosting a remembrance of his own for the third year in a row at his home for the firefighters who lost their lives because of the Sept. 11 attacks. He also is seeking volunteers to help keep the garden going, something that health issues are making harder for him to do alone.
“I’d like to see some people come out and remember this tragedy and try not to have it pushed out of their minds totally,” Wdowicki said. “That is what it’s all about – remembering.”
A former on-call firefighter with the Glenview Rural Fire Department, Wdowicki remembers all too well watching the TV that fateful morning almost seven years ago. His wife of 54 years, Pat Wdowicki, remembers, as well.
“The day it happened we were watching it on TV,” she said, “and he was so emotionally attached to the whole thing when he saw the firefighters go into the building.”
Wdowicki couldn’t take his eyes off the TV.
“When the plane went into the second building, tears were coming down my face,” he said. “I couldn’t help it. We talked about it and I said then that there was some way I was going to personally build a memorial to the fallen firemen.”
He decided to honor the fallen firefighters through what he does best, planting flowers and gardening, a hobby so ingrained in him that the first thing he did when he and his wife got married was to plant flowers at their new home.
Likewise, when the Wdowickis moved to Elburn from Des Plaines five years ago , the first thing he did was to plant the Garden of Memory using flowers from his former home. It started with peonies, bleeding hearts, irises, daffodils and tulips and has become so much more, filling up a good portion of his front yard.
But as Wdowicki looks out at his garden, an oxygen bag by his side, he know that the days of taking care of the garden by himself are drawing to an end.
“I don’t know how much longer I’ll be able to take care of it,” said Wdowicki, who has to weed from a plastic chair he brings out to the garden with him.
“I can’t work out there. I think the last time I worked out there for about four straight hours I filled two garbage cans and then I couldn’t do nothing for two days I hurt so bad.”
His son, Philip, helps when he can with the garden, but Wdowicki said he could use other helpers as well to keep his Garden of Memory tended.
“I go out there as often as I can now to try and make it look just a little bit nicer for the occasion,” Wdowicki said of the upcoming Sept. 11 remembrance. “I just wish there were more people that had my enthusiasm for it and hopefully if the people find out about it, maybe there will be some.”
But, for now, it gives him pleasure simply to know the garden is there.
“I’m very proud of it,” he said. “When it’s in full bloom, it’s just a beautiful place to be.
“My wife asked me, ‘Why are you building a flower garden out in front of the house.’ And I said, ‘So you can see and look out the window and watch.’ And that’s what we do.”