Scott Ohlrich served with the Palatine Fire Department for 30 years before he retired last year, but his legacy with the village may stretch even longer.
Ohlrich was instrumental in planting the seed, so to speak, for a new community garden, which broke ground last month.
Using a quarter acre, north of the Palatine Fire Station on Hicks Road -- donated by the village for the project -- more than 50 volunteers turned out on a cool Saturday morning to help tear up the sod and prepare the soil for gardening.
On Saturday, they will return with yards of topsoil, as they get closer to planting the Roots Garden with a wide variety of peppers, tomatoes, greens, carrots and other vegetables.
"That piece of property was one that we used occasionally for fire department training, but little else," says Ohlrich, a Palatine native. "I thought we could find something more constructive for it."
Ohlrich was one of the cooks during his years on the force, and he loved to use fresh vegetables from their small gardens, he says. His specialty was eggplant Parmesan.
He envisioned growing lots of vegetables in the much larger garden, but it took his colleagues in the Palatine Police and Fire Benevolent Association, who agreed to help fund the garden, to suggest its beneficiaries: residents living in the apartment complexes on the east side of the village, served by the Palatine Opportunity Center.
Kathy Millin, executive director of the center, loved the idea. And not just for its fresh produce.
"We loved Scott's idea that the garden would unite volunteers with people who might not have access to gardens, and fresh vegetables," Millin said.
In getting started, Millin turned to her ROLE participants, or women Reaching out Leading to Excellence, who gathered 35 families interested in working the garden.
"Many did this in their home countries," Millin adds, "and they miss this experience and want to share it with their children."
These family members gathered with Palatine High School students, volunteers from Prince of Peace Church and police and firefighters in carving out the garden.
Already, clients of the Palatine Opportunity Center have planted more than 350 seeds in cups that they are nurturing in their apartments and in the greenhouse at Sundling Junior High School, before they replant them in the garden later this month.
The project also has drawn widespread support from local merchants and village entities: the Palatine Park District; the village of Palatine; Palatine Township Elementary District 15; Home Depot; Knupper Nursery; Harper College's human services department; and members of PATH, Palatine Assisting Through Hope.
Many of the volunteers were as enthusiastic about it as Anne Morel of Palatine, who eagerly rolled up her sleeves up.
"I get so much joy out of growing things with my kids, and cooking with those vegetables, that I wanted other families to have the same opportunity," says Morel, who also volunteers in the learning lab with families at the Palatine Opportunity Center.
"Just the words, 'community garden' are appealing to me," she adds. "It implies that people will be working together to feed a community."
Ohlrich agrees, adding that his initial idea of making better use of a plot of empty land has taken on a life of its own.
"It really has become a community project," Ohlrich says. "It's my hope that this garden will serve as a model for similar community-based projects around Palatine, in the near future."