Park People: The VanWormer Family

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Melvin Grant VanWormer 

Mel was born naturally suited for art, flowers and beautiful gardens. However, like most artists who are early in their careers, he too was hindered by life's limitations and could not freely explore his gift.  That’s why Mel’s first paid artist job was designing butter and ice cream containers for a packaging company. This job has fond memories because it was the place where he first met the beauty of his life, Mary.    

Mel and Mary were both artists employed by the packaging factory, and were reciprocal admirers.  They would purposefully need a drink of water (at the same time) and arrange meet-ups at the water fountain. Finally, Mary took the first step and invited Mel on a date to view her art portfolio - and the rest is history. The couple married in 1956 and one year later they started their family. First born was Jim, then Bill, Marie and Mary. 

Their most romantic dates were the simple ones... like enjoying a cup of coffee while meandering through the fauna at Crosby Gardens (now Toledo Botanical Garden). Regardless of the season, the couple found joy and tranquility exploring acres of plant collections and display gardens. The garden ignited Mel’s creativity and artistry. With this flame, he transformed his ordinary backyard into the VanWormer Arboretum. Trees, Hosta, flowering annuals, ponds and waterfalls were just some of the elements used for his masterpiece. And of course, Mel was the recipient of the Garden Beautification Award - three times.  Mel was both endearing and generous with his gardening. He would give “a start” and the special story that accompanied each plant to anyone who asked. 

Sadly, Mel’s good health and mobility started to fail, but his love and devotion to his garden did not fade. He was relentless. Mel would fill his scooter basket with water bottles, and sometimes crawl on his hands and knees to care for his fauna family. His body would sometimes be sore the next day, but Mel said “it was all worth it!”  

Mel died April 8, 2020. In his last days, his family and caregivers knew what provided him joy - time at Toledo Botanical Garden with Mary, his beautiful bride of 64 years. Mel’s children said that he was the best dad ever. Sweet memories and “starts” from Mel live on in the gardens of family and friends everywhere. 

Today, Mel’s family visits his favorite place, the Hosta Garden at Toledo Botanical Garden where he is remembered. His children chose to honor his memory by supporting the planting of the Hosta garden with memorial donations.