Kathy Andrachuk - Hort stalwart and dear friend

Many of you now know that our long time hort member Kathy Andrachuk passed away suddenly on Saturday October 28th, 2017. To read Kathy’s official obituary please click here.

We will miss her greatly.

At the Celebration of Life for Kathy Andrachuk there were may moving and heartwarning moments and sharing of treasured memories. Clement Kent spoke, his speech is reproduced here: 

A few words about Kathy Andrachuk

I first met Kathy about 29 years ago. I ran into Cam Stewart, a district director with the Ontario Horticultural Association or OHA, at the CNE.  The OHA had become involved with the CNE in 1981, and Cam directed the first OHA flower show there. Our new and vigorous Parkdale Horticultural Society was taking off, and Cam suggested we meet with some of the members of the Toronto Horticultural Society, which was experiencing some membership difficulties. So, a little while later I met Kathy – I forget now whether she was president or vice president of the Toronto Society that year.

I found Kathy to be pleasant and agreeable, and with not much ado we negotiated the merger of the two societies. It was then my pleasure to work with her on the board of the new Horticultural Societies of Parkdale and Toronto, or the Hort for short, for almost 3 decades.

At first, my impressions of Kathy were mostly due to her never-ending energy in organizing, arranging, making things happen, and never with any complaints or negativity.  Any of you who have worked in a volunteer organization knows how infinitely precious these traits are, and how rare! But gradually, as I got to know Kathy and Bill, I encountered other aspects of their lives together – the ballroom dancing particularly impressed me, since I’m such a clumsy dancer myself.

Being an Ontario Horticultural Society, we had meetings to attend with the OHA. But I had a busy work career, and soon a young family to take care of, so I was very pleased that Kathy was able to attend so many OHA meetings as the Hort’s delegate. I began to realize that Kathy had certainly met people in most of the garden clubs around Ontario, connections we often benefitted from.Kathy at the 2009 Plant Fair (Photo thanks to Luba Ferris.)

Another skill of Kathy’s was persuasion. Somehow, I don’t know how, she always had donations from merchants to use as raffle prizes or to give away at meetings. I wish I’d had the chance to observe her in action as she charmed these gifts from busy businesspeople, but instead I always saw the results: overflowing baskets full of treats at our plant fairs and meetings.

Kathy also had flair for promotion. How many of you remember her, with her antennae strapped on her head, promoting the sale of praying mantis egg clusters or of ladybird beetles at the Hort plant fairs?

Kathy gave a lot as a volunteer, but she also understood that one must give back to volunteers. I wonder how many of us here today received Ontario Volunteer Service Awards – the trillium pin – because of Kathy? I don’t know how many awards Kathy herself got, but I suspect the right answer is “many”.Kathy with the OHA District 15 trophy awarded to The Garden Party for youth involvement. Kathy wrote up the grant application.

When I first met Kathy, I didn’t know about her other volunteer involvements. I’m sure there are still some I don’t know about, but as the years went by the Hort became more and more involved with two of Kathy’s causes: St. Christopher House and St. George the Martyr church. We had many pleasant barbecue socials in the courtyard of St. Christopher House – with Bill as chief barbecue chef and Kathy keeping everything going. And of course our society then got involved in building and planting several gardens as St. Chris.

One of the most “giving” things Kathy did was organizing our involvement in the rejuvenation and ongoing maintenance of the enclosed garden of St. George the Martyr Church, next to Grange Park. This historic Toronto church has a walled enclosure, with garden beds we gradually transformed. There are memorial plaques on the inside of those walls, and I feel sure we will help install one for Kathy there too. I personally was involved in a remembrance activity there. The father of one of the school friends of my daughter had suddenly died, and the family was grief-stricken, as we are today. The Hort selected a remembrance rose, and planted it in the St. George garden bed with the family. It is still blooming there today. I hope some of you will think of what kind of plant we could put in the St. George beds in remembrance of Kathy.

But that wasn’t enough volunteer work for Kathy – she then organized a spring hanging basket planting project at St. George. Every summer since beautiful flowering baskets have hung in the colonnaded ambulatory that makes the yard feel like a cloister. And almost every May since (until the church’s temporary closure this year due to construction) we had our very pleasant May meeting in the church itself – all these things we owe to Kathy.Kathy with an Allan Garden Wreath she helped make. (Photo thanks to Hilde Ortmann)

The history of the Toronto Horticultural Society is intertwined with that of Allan Gardens, one of the showpieces of our Parks system, which the Toronto Hort first built on land deeded to it for that purpose by Mayor George Allan. The Parks department does lovely holiday season displays in the greenhouses at Allan gardens, and guess who was deeply involved in making and displaying floral wreaths there? Why Kathy, of course. When you add up all the pleasure those wreaths have given to thousands of Toronto children taken by their families to Allan gardens in December, we have a lot to remember Kathy for.

But, given how important Kathy has been in Beautifying Toronto, and given the love for her I feel within these walls, I don’t think a plaque on the wall and a rose bush is going to be enough. That’s why I’m very pleased to announce a special remembrance project we at the Hort have been organizing.

We have a fine precedent for this project. In 1978, the OHA established the Ontario Horticultural Association Oak Grove as part of the arboretum in Guelph. The First tree planted was a Scarlet Oak honouring Mabel Stewart. In 1981 two trees were planted to honour Harry Occomore and Ellen Bigelow. The Association acquired a plot of land to extend the existing area and oak trees were planted and benches dedicated to the memory of former presidents.

The price of land being what it is in downtown Toronto, I don’t think the Hort is going to acquire a plot through purchase. Instead, we are going to create the Kathy Andrachuk Memorial Grove and Pollinator Garden in a city park. We’ve capitalized on our excellent relations with the Parks department (relations that are great in part due to Kathy’s efforts) to locate a space downtown where we can do something ambitious and permanent.

I first thought of the St. George the Martyr grounds, but they are closed to outsiders for a time due to construction. Next, I asked Parks about the Grange Park, or perhaps Trinity Bellwoods Park because of its proximity to St. Christopher House. However, the very helpful Parks staffer said the design for the Grange was full, and Trinity Bellwoods nearly full; but were we interested in redesigning the northwest corner of Stanley Park?

Stanley Park is a neighborhood park just south of Trinity Bellwoods. If you drew a line some blocks to the west from Kathy and Bill’s place on Camden, you’d hit the northern end of Stanley Park. Even though King street is not far away, Stanley is a quiet neighborhood park.

But Stanley Park has a problem. At the northern end, a plantation of Austrian pine trees was made years ago. Unfortunately, all these trees are infected with an incurable fungus disease which is slowly killing them off. Across the street from the park, an avenue of ash trees was planted – and the emerald ash borer will get them sooner or later. Within a few years this pleasant space will go from green and leafy to bare.

Enter the Hort, accompanied by Parks and City Forestry. I’ve walked the space, taken pictures, and prepared a preliminary plan and budget. The city has given us an informal go-ahead, and the Hort Board has expressed agreement in principle and will vote on the proposal at their meeting on Monday. The Kathy Andrachuk Memorial Grove and Pollinator Garden will be made up of native trees, shrubs, and perennials which will provide shade, spring to fall flowers for pollinators, and brilliant fall leaf color. Parks will provide us with sturdy trees capable of surviving the rough-housing they can get in public spots, at a reasonable cost. Parks will also provide soil and planting assistance next April, when we plan to plant the garden and grove.

The budget proposal to the Hort Board is substantial but can only provide a few of the more costly larger, park-safe trees. We have enough space in the park to expand the planting, if we receive donations earmarked for the project. So, as we remember Kathy and all the wonderful times we had with her, I am calling you, her friends and partners in city beautification, to dig into your pockets, and to solicit donations from others of like mind, to expand the number and types of trees and flowering shrubs we can afford. If we are very successful at raising funds, we will add some hard infrastructure such as a bench, although this is quite dear.

I’m not just calling on you for your dollars. I have volunteered to chair a small committee which will make sure the project is a success. I’m asking for a few volunteers to join me on the committee. You’ll need to make a one-year commitment, for fund raising, planning and design this winter, planting and watering in spring, and organizing a commemorative summer meeting in the park of Kathy’s friends and others once the garden is established. I am especially interested in volunteers who either live or work near the park, because we want to do this in conjunction with the neighborhood, and volunteers with design skills interested in donating some time to produce the best possible plan.

In summary, on this Remembrance Day, I call on you to remember all the wonderful things that kind, cheerful, and giving Kathy Andrachuk gave us and the city of Toronto, and find in your hearts to give back for Kathy. 

--Clement Kent

If you wish to make a donation in Kathy’s name for the Kathy Andrachuk Memorial Grove please click here to go to our donation page and find out how to do it. Thank you for your kind support.

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