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Growing Burt’s garden

Burt Mann, an employee at the Mount Si Senior Center, is passionate about making the center a green and lush place. The atrium garden is his creation, grown with help from the community. - Seth Truscott / Snoqualmie Valley Record
Burt Mann, an employee at the Mount Si Senior Center, is passionate about making the center a green and lush place. The atrium garden is his creation, grown with help from the community.
— image credit: Seth Truscott / Snoqualmie Valley Record

Turning a gravelly, lifeless storage yard into a green space for seniors is the passion of North Bend resident Burt Mann.

At a point in life where most people are retired, the 87-year-old Mann is still working, as the janitor at the Mount Si Senior Center. His favorite place is the atrium between the center’s old and new wings. Now, with a little help from a North Bend landscaper, Mann is working to turn the space into a garden and koi pond to the delight of fellow seniors.

“Burt is great,” said Ruth Tolmassoff, Mount Si Senior Center Director. “He works here. Everyone knows him.

“But the love of his life are the plants,” she added. “He can make everything grow.”

Mann turned his green thumb toward the dead, gravelly space where the center kept its spare bus tires.

“There was nothing. Cinders,” Mann said. “I brought the plants one by one.”

Mann started working at the center a decade ago, after his wife died.

“The Lord says that if you give, you’re going to receive,” he said. “He gives me another day, every day, for donating my time and a little pocket change” to make the senior center a lush, green place.

Mann has tended the atrium, taking care of the wild plants there. Staff and seniors walking through the building have enjoyed looking out the windows and seeing the atrium bloom.

“Now it’s got rhododendrons and other things,” Tolmassoff said. “He’s planning how we can grow some herbs.”

It’s very important for seniors’ wellbeing to have a place to enjoy plants and animals, Tolmassoff said. Many seniors are no longer able to care for yards or pets, and Mann’s creation renews that connection with nature.

For Mann’s birthday, employees in the center’s transportation department bought him a fountain. To help install it, Ryan Kolodejchuk of Landwork Enterprises, a North Bend landscaper, donated his time.

For Kolodejchuk, the donated time and effort for the fountain were the least he can do for Mann.

“They have broke the mold on people like him,” he said.

Mann was in the second wave of the Normandy invasion, and was a World War II POW, who went on to put two children through college.

“He’s 87 years old and still working, loves to volunteer,” Kolodejchuk said. “He’s definitely old school.”

When Mann offered to pay for the work, Kolodejchuk refused.

“This is something we want to do,” he said. “It’s about time that somebody repays him.”

The atrium remains a work in progress. Plans are afoot for garden paths, seats and better access for seniors.

“It’s not a big space, but it’ll be a nice space,” Tolmassoff said.

“He’s planning the daylights out of it,” Kolodejchuk said. “He’s done a great job.

Someday soon, local seniors will enjoy fresh air and see fish swim and plants grow where before, there was nothing to stop for.

“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” Kolodejchuk said.

Mann said it’s not his green thumb that’s made his garden grow.

“I don’t make them grow, the Lord makes them grow,” said Mann, who prays for his plants. “Lord, make them bloom, and make them show the beauty that you’ve got in your heart for everybody. And here it is.”

He’s outside at 6 a.m., six days a week, watering his plants.

For anyone who has a plant they think is dying, “don’t throw it away,” Mann said. “Bring it to me. Even if you think it’s dead, I’ll give it a chance.”

• The Mount Si Senior Center is located at 411 Main Ave. S. in North Bend. Call the center at (425) 888-3434.

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