- Author: Rose Hayden-Smith
I'm writing a quick note on my lunch break about one of my favorite UCCE Master Gardeners, Vance Askew, who passed away last week. Vance, a resident of midtown (and my around-the-corner neighbor) was a fixture at the Loma Vista Elementary gardening projects I ran for six years, the older gentleman with the healthy tan, great attitude and amazing head of hair. If your child attended Loma Vista with Natalie, he/she met and worked with Vance. (He always broke the safety rule about closed toe shoes and wore sandals).
I first encountered Vance, a former Navy pilot, on my evening walks around Anacapa Estates, in 1990. He was often out gardening, and just very friendly. Our friendship developed when I moved from UCSB to the UCCE office in 1992. Vance was a UCCE Master Gardener, and a fixture in the CE Office.
Vance was a frequent visitor in our home, and I was in his home often, mostly in his wonderful backyard, admiring his ability to green the world. When Natalie was born, Vance was an honorary grandfather; remembering birthdays with things pink and Barbie. Vance and Bill shared a strong affinity, as well, comparing notes about orchids and other things they liked to grow. Vance always left bags of things from his garden and yard on our step; he was our first experience with a CSA! His grapefruit was especially impressive.
We shared common interests as gardening enthusiasts and neighbors, including a commitment to our neighborhood school. So I enlisted Vance for practical and moral support when I decided to start a weekly garden program at Loma Vista Elementary School when Natalie was in kindergarten (I continued this program for six years, and it was one of the most rewarding activities I've ever done. I miss it tremendously). Gardening days would inevitably induce panic...there were a lot of kids, and managing lots of kids in a garden can be challenging. What I'd planned would seem woefully inadequate. I'd call Vance, and he'd ALWAYS say: "Never Fear! The Master Gardener Is Here!" And I would be assured and confident. And his beat up old gold truck (still in front of his house) would appear at either my house or Loma Vista and away we'd go.
Each year, Vance helped us rototill the school beds, and would also help out at individual sessions. Along the way he remarried, and his childhood friend and new wife, Marva, sometimes came out to help us at Loma Vista as well. His health began to really decline a couple of years ago. Bill and I bought our own rototiller and turned the beds for Mrs. Oeschner's 4th grade garden, and I rototilled the beds for Mr. Peterson's 5th grade class garden all on my own. I gardened mostly on my own those last two years, but Vance was a presence that buoyed my confidence as I began to develop my own style as a garden educator.
Recently, Vance had split his time between Marva's home in Pacific Grove and his house on San Roque. He died up north; his memorial service will be at St. Paul's Episcopal Church (in midtown, across from the Ventura County Medical Center) at 1:00 p.m. on Saturday, January 24th, with Fr. Jerome Kahler officiating. As Vance was a lifetime member of our local Master Gardener program, I expect that there will be lots of gardening volunteers in attendance.
Vance led a long and incredibly full life. I'm saddened by his passing. I will miss him immensely. But Vance would argue that death is part of the essential nature of any garden, of any life. Renewal requires a death of some sort, whether physical, or simply the loss of a dream, a relationship, a potential. There is a season for everything. We go on, taking from our experiences - perhaps, especially, the painful ones - the lessons that will inform our journey, and the memories that keep us connected to what has passed.
Ironically, as I've moved onto a larger stage in my efforts to encourage a revival of school, home and community gardening in America, I've had less time to tend to my own gardening efforts. This weekend, I hope to get something in, something simple, maybe evoking the first projects we did with a Loma Vista kindergarten class in recycled avocado bins.
Never Fear. The Master Gardener is Here!
"A Garden for Everyone. Everyone in a Garden."