Tucked snugly next to the Kenai Senior Center is a greenhouse brimming with lush cucumber plants and black gardening boxes. On Tuesday afternoon, pale gray light filtered through the structure’s translucent siding while a slow stream of visitors trickled in and out of the open door.
They and others were among those who gathered at the center for a ceremony dedicating the greenhouse to a former Kenai Senior Center regular and gardening enthusiast, Bill Osborn, who died in 2018 at the age of 89. On top of his service to the senior center, Osborn also served the city in other capacities, including on the Kenai Harbor Commission, the Kenai Planning and Zoning Commission and the Kenai Council on Aging.
The talk of Tuesday’s gathering, however, was Osborn’s green thumb.
“He loved his garden,” said former Kenai Senior Center Director Rachael Craig. “He loved his vegetables. We always could count on his rhubarb that he brought to the center on the Fourth of July.”
Craig recalled fondly Osborn’s years of service to the center, including his positive and uplifting disposition, his generosity with the fruits of his labor and his unrelenting advocacy for the efforts of the senior center. As this year’s Fourth of July festivities came and went, she said she could still picture Osborn in his straw hat, helping out.
“On a down day, he was always there to come and lift you up,” Craig said.
In attendance at Tuesday’s ceremony were Osborn’s wife, Betty; his daughter, Vicke Kukowski; and his son-in-law, Ray Kukowski. Vicke spoke on behalf of herself and on behalf of her brother Keith, who was unable to attend.
“Our family really, really appreciates it an awful lot and we hope that for years to come that that little greenhouse out there, with some expert help, will continue to help (provide) food for folks,” Vicke Kukowski said.
Unveiled at Tuesday’s ceremony by Vicke Kukowski and current Kenai Senior Center Director Kathy Romain was a plaque reading “Bill Osborn Memorial Greenhouse and Garden,” which will be affixed to the exterior of the greenhouse structure.
It was Vicke who first floated to Romain the idea of building a greenhouse at the center in honor of her dad. Romain brought on Craig to consult, and they were all in agreement: a greenhouse. Money for the construction of the greenhouse came from memorial funds given by Osborn’s family and friends.
Now, stakeholders hope Osborn’s gusto for gardening can be passed on to others. Craig encouraged greenhouse patrons to pause for a moment inside and think about Bill.
“I think each of us, when we step into the greenhouse … can hear Bill telling us, ‘Maybe I might add a little fertilizer to this,’ or, ‘Maybe we should add this next year,’ ” because he’s with us celebrating,” Craig said.
Tuesday’s ceremony ended with a buffet-style lunch that included a garden-themed cake and salad — topped with cucumbers grown in the greenhouse.
Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at firstname.lastname@example.org.