The Ohio State University Alumni Association

Alumni help restore historic VA gardens’ luster.

The lush scenery is reminiscent of days when 600,000 people visited the gardens annually in the late 1890s.

When volunteers descended on what once were ornate gardens near the Dayton VA Medical Center, they found barren flowerbeds, broken glass and weeds — plenty of weeds.

“There was this tremendous overgrowth of wild honeysuckle, wild grapevines and eastern poison ivy,” says Charles Dickerson ’59, ’62 DDS. “The stalks on some of the poison ivy were as big as baseball bats.”

Debbi Riley ’73 had a similar reaction: “It gave the impression of ‘No one cares here.’”

That isn’t the case today, thanks to the sweat equity of about a dozen Ohio State alumni whose volunteer efforts have helped revive the gardens’ beauty. Riley and Dickerson are among several master gardeners certified through the Montgomery County office of OSU Extension who have planted, weeded, maintained and promoted the Grotto Gardens over the past three years.

The center opened shortly after the Civil War to accommodate the expected flood of disabled, jobless and homeless soldiers, and the gardens soon followed. A place of solace for veterans, they were showy enough to attract some 600,000 tourists annually in the late 1890s.

Riley says the recent beautification efforts are a fitting tribute to the men and women who have given our country so much.

“I have family ties to the military and have always wanted to see the Dayton VA grounds be returned to an area of beauty. Historically, it was a very creative park and drew attention to the Dayton area,” she says. “It was abandoned for so many years and now again is a place for veterans and families to celebrate life.”

Ohio State alumni volunteers have helped revive the Dayton VA Medical Center’s historic Grotto Gardens.
Alumnus Charles Dickerson and other master gardeners promote as well as maintain the gardens.
Pretty Lady Diana plantings provide vibrant color.
The grotto, gardens and lake have been a place of solace for veterans since shortly after the Civil War.
The lush scenery is reminiscent of days when 600,000 people visited the gardens annually in the late 1890s.
Ornamental grass and ferns are among plants that line pathways through the gardens.
Plush gardens now stand where out-of-control weeds existed for decades.
Alumna Sue Howorth prunes coneflowers in the pollinator garden.
A variety of sedums surround a fountain that anchors the butterfly garden.
The Grotto Gardens has received a historic landmark designation and national preservation award since 2012.
Susan Baker tends to the gardens in late September. CHECKING THAT SHE’S ALUM.

Your chance to pay forward

The alumni association’s Office of Volunteer Relations already is planning the April 2017 observance of Buckeyes Give: Month of Service. It’s easy to participate:

  • Define any type of community service project.
  • Post it at to show Buckeye Nation that you’re in.
  • Share your project with your network to recruit volunteers.
  • Complete your project.
  • Let us know how it went.

Last April, The Ohio State University Alumni Association clubs and societies organized 44 projects involving more than 600 volunteers. Just imagine the impact we could have with even more Buckeyes joining in the effort. More details will follow in the coming months.

The Office of Volunteer Relations posts additional opportunities throughout the year.

Questions? Contact or 614-247-4955.


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