By LEIGH C. MERRIFIELD
News & Journal Editor
Each year, West Virginia’s governor urges residents of the Mountain State to nominate outstanding citizens (youth through seniors), families, businesses and organizations for consideration for the Governor’s Service Awards. This effort is supported by Volunteer West Virginia in an attempt to promote volunteerism and service within communities.
2015 selections have been made and a Shinnston resident was surprised by a recent call telling him that he had been chosen as one of the recipients! Unbeknownst to him, Lee Reger was nominated in the ‘senior’ category as one whose outstanding volunteer contributions had helped to bring about positive change in his community.
Reger’s nomination was composed and submitted by Kathleen Panek, owner of the Gillum House Bed & Breakfast, who stated, “Lee stepped forward to supervise Shinnston’s Community Garden last year and again this year. The garden was a part of a Growing Healthy Communities grant that our city has received the past two years. Because this was something that Lee had always dreamed of, it was a perfect opportunity for him to step forward and put his Master Gardener skills to good use and it has proven to be a great benefit for our Lord’s Pantry.”
Letters supporting his nomination were also offered by Pastor Cindy Murphy and former City Manager Debra Herndon.
Honored to have been chosen for the recognition, Reger said it is a project he hopes will continue.
“I guess the Community Garden – by choice – kind of became ‘my baby’, but I had many dedicated helpers on the project as well as some generous donations from the Master Gardeners and the Shinnston Garden Club in addition to the grant funding,” he stated. “This was something I had longed to see come about for some time and my vision is to see it grow even more … with more people becoming involved and perhaps the addition of berry bushes and some other things.”
Panek noted that this year even students from Jungle Junction preschool visited the garden one day every week to help care for it. “And it is a learning opportunity for them as well,” she added.
What originated as a small garden plot on a vacant lot in the downtown area soon created excitement as people watched it grow. Last year by the end of the growing season, the community garden had provided 800 pounds of fresh produce that was given to local neighbors in need by The Lord’s Pantry in Shinnston. A storage shed was added on the property to conveniently house tools needed to care for the plants, and later a split rail fence was another addition to create its boundaries. And, for beautification purposes, flower boxes were planted and hung on the fence rails.
Reger added, “I would like to see this continue and one thing I think we need to look at is more long-range planning. In addition to more involvement, I’d like to see a garden committee, an education committee and even a beautification committee develop in the future. And we probably need to get the word out a little more about what we’re doing there because I happened to be there watering the day of Shinnston’s City-Wide Yard Sale, and many folks stopped by to ask question about it. Everyone seems to like the fact that we are doing this project, but if more people were aware of it, we might have more volunteers!”
Reger has voluntarily invested many hours of his time and talents into developing the Shinnston Community Garden and teaching skills to youth who exhibited an interest and gave of their time to help maintain it. The youth learned more than gardening skills; they also learned the value of service.
Reger said that despite the fact that the weather has not been the greatest for gardening this year, the garden is producing but not as well as he would like.
“For the first time in years and years, I didn’t even plant a garden of my own this year because I knew I’d be too involved with the community garden!” he continued. “But it’s all about neighbors helping neighbors, and those folks served by The Lord’s Pantry are certainly glad to receive fresh produce as a result of our Community Garden.”
Lee Reger’s volunteerism with the project has been significant, and he has provided a great example of leadership and service to his community. For this reason, he will be recognized in Charleston in October at the state volunteer conference ‘Faces of Leadership’, where he will receive his award from Governor Earl Ray Tomblin.