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WWII vet still gardening at 87

Glen Belisle sits in front of his plants in a shared vegetable garden behind his apartment complex. Belisle’s plants take up the majority of the plot and include tomatoes, lettuce, peppers and cucumbers. (Photos by Gretta Stark)

Glen Belisle started gardening when he was 3 years old, helping his mother with her garden and learning from her.

"My mother was a great gardener," Belisle said. "I think of her all the time when I'm gardening."

Which is every day, with very few exceptions, Belisle said, despite the fact he is 87 years old, has had multiple hip surgeries and is confined to a power scooter.

"I feel so much better when I'm down in the garden," Belisle said. "I forget about everything when I'm down there."

Belisle has tomato, cauliflower, lettuce and other vegetables in a larger, shared garden behind his apartment complex. He also has a raised vegetable garden, planted in a large wooden trough, on the lawn outside his apartment. The raised vegetable garden contains tomatoes, cucumbers and multiplier onions.

"Both of us just love vegetables," Belisle said of himself and his wife, Muriel."We eat a lot of vegetables. I had lettuce last night for supper."

Belisle also shares his vegetables with his six children and their children and grandchildren, as well as his neighbors.

In addition, Belisle also has a raised flower garden full of petunias, double petunias and other flowers, several hanging baskets of flowers and a bird bath, with flowers planted around it.

Once or twice a day, every day, Belisle will gather his gardening tools from near his door and ride his scooter outside to water and weed his gardens.

In recent hot weather, Belisle has only been able to go outside in the evening, when it is cooler, and water the gardens.

Belisle takes careful care of his gardens. He said he collects rainwater in buckets to water the plants. He also makes sure to weed them and "keep them clean."

Belisle's neighbors often stop to talk to him when he's working in his gardens.

"They think that's something," Belisle said. "They say 'Here he is, 87 years old, and out there every day in the garden.'"

When asked what the secret behind his green thumb is, Belisle laughs.

"That's what they all ask me," Belisle said. "I said, 'Nobody's got a green thumb. It's just that you water them at the right time. And a lot of people.. over-water.'"

Apart from three years as a member of the Army Medical Corps in World War II and two years working for the Waldorf Paper Co., Belisle has always had a garden. Until 15 years ago, Belisle said, he had a farm as well. Having grown up on a farm, Belisle purchased a farm north of Somerset, two years after World War II ended.

In addition to three hip replacements in his right hip, and a break mended with a steel rod on his left, Belisle has also suffered from cataracts. He recently had them removed, which means he still has to wear dark glasses outside. But, he said, now he can see his flowers. He especially enjoys sitting near his sliding glass door and looking at his flower garden.

"I've got my chair," Belisle said. "It's right there. I can see my flowers grow."

Belisle said his family has been worried about him gardening as he's gotten older, especially if he were to injure himself accidentally. But Belisle said he isn't worried.

"If I die down there," Belisle said, "that would be the nicest place to die there is."

Belisle has been passing down the art of gardening to his great-grandson Dillon, 12, who, Belisle said, is a good gardener. Belisle said he hopes Dillon will carry on his legacy someday.

"He's a good kid," Belisle said. "I think when I'm gone, he'll plant the garden."

Jeff Holmquist
Jeff Holmquist has been managing editor of the New Richmond News since 2004. He holds a bachelor's degree in journalism and business administration from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. He has previously worked as editor in Wadena, Minn.; Detroit Lakes, Minn.; Hutchinson, Minn.; and Bloomington, Minn. He also was previously owner of the Osceola Sun, Stillwater Courier and Scandia Messenger along with his wife. Together they previously founded and published The Old Times newspaper for antiques and collectibles collectors; and Up!, a Christian magazine of hope and encouragement.
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