Every once in a while, a truly remarkable person crosses your path someone who lingers in your brain long after your encounter. Henry Remple is like that. Soft-spoken and with a fluff of curly white hair, the 93-year-old Remple fascinated me with talk of his life and his garden.
For decades Remple and his wife, Marianna, were busy with family, volunteer work and careers. Remple, a psychologist, was the chief of the Veteran's Administration Service in Leavenworth and has served on the Boards of Bert Nash and the Council on Aging. He also had a part-time appointment at Kansas University.
In the years since, he has retired. His wife had been active in the Girl Scouts for many years.
"Marianna was always busy with Girl Scouts," he said. "I'm sort of a Girl Scout myself. I've been carrying a Girl Scout card for 30 years."
Even though his wife died two years ago, a senior Girl Scout troop and a 3rd grade troop continue to meet at Remple's house twice a month.
"The house is still here," he reasoned, pointing to the room where the meetings are held.
Remple said his garden has been a long time in the making. He and Marianna found time only to putter around it.
"We did it piecemeal before," he admitted. "But never very well."
Marianna "never got a chance to do the yard," Remple said. "One of our plans was to fix up the yard."
So, he began the garden in earnest after her death. The garden begins at the front door, travels along the left side of the garage, picks up at the edge of the patio at the back of the house and travels down a steep hill across wide wooden steps before coming to rest at the farthest border of the yard.
Lily of the valley, irises, ornamental grasses, daisies and moonbeam coreopsis enjoy their spaces in this tidy garden. Roses and beautiful yellow flowers, whose name escapes Remple, add to the beauty of the place.
"Last fall I ordered 240 tulip bulbs from Holland," Remple said.
He was careful to select different tulips early, mid and late season bloomers to prolong the bloom time.
"I had a beautiful display of tulips for about one month," he said.
Remple hires out a nursery to do much of the heavy garden work.
"I try to simplify things as much as possible," he explained.
The digging, planting, mulching, mowing are left to those with younger muscles. His daughter helps with some of the planting.
"If it weren't for my kids, I'd be in worse shape," he confessed.
Remple pulls weeds in the gardens that are close to the house and keeps the flower beds well watered.
Although a few beds are watered by hand, most benefit from a unique watering system that Remple has set up. Tiny tubes attached to a main hose snake their way through flowerbeds. Water dribbles from them to keep the soil moist.
"I turn in on in May and leave it run. I am fortunate the cost is not that high," Remple said. "I turn it off after the first frost. Then everything goes. It saves me a lot of time.
"Gardening is a way of keeping me interested in what's going on around me," he said. "I enjoy watching my plants bloom."
Although Remple's garden is very nice, it is the man himself who is so remarkable.
At age 93, he has written a book that was published last December and is already sold out. "From Bolshevik Russia to America: A Mennonite Family Story" chronicles his family's escape from religious persecution in Russia in 1922.
By the age of 13 Remple had witnessed his parents' deaths and those of eight of his siblings before their reaching America. Remple and two older sisters were the only ones to survive the journey. They arrived in Nebraska knowing only a few words of English. Remple eventually attended Tabor College in Hillsboro and the University of Minnesota. He ultimately received his doctorate in clinical psychology from Kansas University.
Today, he remains the sole survivor of his family. And he continues to look to the future.
"I have a nursery coming to fix up the west end," he explained of the least cultivated area in his yard. "I ordered some bushes and perennial flowers. I've been thinking about having a pool (pond) installed next year. I like the sound of water rippling down."
Carol Boncella is education coordinator at Lawrence Memorial Hospital and home and garden writer for the Journal-World.