Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

For Joe Faust, 92, Tending to the Grounds of a Westside Church Is a Daily Ritual That Reflects a Love for Helping Things Grow; FULL-TIME DEVOTION

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

For Joe Faust, 92, Tending to the Grounds of a Westside Church Is a Daily Ritual That Reflects a Love for Helping Things Grow; FULL-TIME DEVOTION

Article excerpt

Byline: RACHEL DAVIS and JEFF BRUMLEY

Joe Faust gardens. He says he does it because he has to. His 92-year-old bones might stiffen up.

"I keep moving," Joe said, pulling handfuls of crab grass from a corner bed recently. "If I stopped, I don't think I'd make it."

He's been tending beds at Murray Hill Presbyterian Church since 1976. Gerald Ford was president then, and there were more weddings than funerals at the church.

Joe had retired from the roofing business, and gardening was only supposed to be a one-day-a-week job. But, according to Joy Lewis, the church secretary, he shows up around 6:30 a.m. every day. "This is like solitude for him," she said.

It's not unusual to find seniors gardening into their 80s and 90s - especially if they were around gardens or farms as children, said Charlie Nardozzi of the National Gardening Association. Gardening provides outdoor exercise, mental stimulation and "it connects them with their history," he said.

Joe was raised on his father's tobacco farm in Waycross, Ga., so he's used to working with his hands.

"He'd plow it, and us lads had to plant it," Joe said.

He started planting when he was 7, and when the crop turned, he'd pull the leaves with his toes instead of bending over.

While he gardens, he'll tell you stories about his life, but you have to ask. It's not his way to just offer it up.

In 1955, his wife and daughter were killed in a car accident in Polk County. They were his only family until he met Richard Tingley, 58, at the City Rescue Mission.

"He calls me Dad."

Joe spent a year in the Philippines during World War II and survived the Bataan Death March. He'll offer you his own opinions on the current war.

"They don't fight like we did," he said. "They put a bomb in a car and run it into you."

Joe worked as a roofer for most of his life, post-military, back when shingles were nailed by hand. But his love has always been helping things grow.

Pastor Jess McCrosky said Joe's work with the garden and landscaping at Murray Hill Presbyterian is expert, meticulous and beautiful. …

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