By David Sharos
Volunteers along with members of American Legion Post 84 applaud the completion of a new garden bed that was installed on the roof of the building at 1 E. Benton St. in downtown Aurora recently. (Tylerman Films / HANDOUT)
The building at 1 E. Benton St. in downtown Aurora which includes space for the American Legion recently received a visual -and growing - enhancement to its rooftop.
On July 27, a garden bed featuring a mural was gifted to the Roosevelt-Aurora American Legion Post 84 on behalf of its donor U.S. Navy Cmdr. (Ret.) Sherman Neal and the local not-for-profit Obama Legacy Initiative.
Mike Eckburg, commander of the American Legion post, said he and Herschel Luckinbill, president of the Fox Valley Veterans Breakfast Club, were contacted by Aurora Ald. Sherman Jenkins, at large, after he learned Neal wanted “to donate the garden bed to a veterans’ group.”
“Ald. Jenkins told Neal he knew just the person to contact and both Mike Eckburg and I were contacted,” Luckinbill said. “We were told the garden bed was worth $750 and that Cmdr. Neal wanted it to go to a veterans’ group and we’re proud to have it.”
Fred Greenwood of Naperville, who serves as the president of the Obama Legacy Initiative, said the group was founded back in 2015 and that its mission is to carry on the vision of former First Lady Michelle Obama of “eliminating food deserts and trying to find creative sustainable solutions to eliminate food scarcities.”
“We work with Illinois food banks and other partners that need garden beds and to date, we have given away about 15 of them,” Greenwood said. “Most groups can plant things by themselves, but we do offer information to help people if they need it.”
For the past six months, a Home Depot store has been involved offering everything from lumber for the garden beds to mulch and even vegetables to be planted inside the beds as part of the project.
Brian Davis, who manages the Home Depot store in Peru, said to date the store has contributed “to four or five garden beds” and said the company “is happy to help people and give something back to the community.”
“Whether it’s helping food banks or doing what we can to help and make things different – we’re happy to do that,” Davis said. “If people get instruction from the Obama group and are taught things, we’re all better off.”
Luckinbill said that the garden bed is a nice donation.
“All we were told was that the donor wanted this to go to a veterans’ group, but if this is used to raise food to help somebody else – we’re ready to help anybody if we can,” he said.
Greenwood said the recent installation at the building on Benton Street included some surprises as Eckburg and others elected to have the eight-foot-long planks and cinder blocks for the bed brought up to the third floor and installed on the roof of the building.
Two beds were actually installed with one on top of the other in order to provide more room for the mural that includes pictures of a family eating, saying prayers, as well as some structures.
“We weren’t expecting to do the install three floors up, but thankfully we had enough help,” Greenwood said.
Eckburg said the installation actually went around some galvanized tubs that were already up on the roof and planted with flowers.
“We learned about three weeks ago this was something that was going to be gifted to us and we’re honored to get it,” Eckburg said. “As post commander, I will certainly do what I can to maintain the garden and if I can’t, the Legion’s Auxiliary will gladly work on it.”
David Sharos is a freelance reporter for The Beacon-News.