Whenever Yolanda Matura begins to think she's spending too much time at the Central Park Rose Garden, she'll stop what she's doing and take a good look at the landscape.
"I work in the garden quite often," said Matura, vice-president of the Central Park Rose Garden Restoration Committee. "After a long day of working, or completing a long-term project, you step back and look at it, and it gives you a great sense of pride and accomplishment."
Matura is one of a handful of volunteers who answered the call back in 1995 when Schenectady Parks Supervisor Bill Seber announced that the city didn't have enough money in the budget to properly take care of the Rose Garden. Along with Matura, current president Matt Cuevas and the Rose Garden Operations Supervisor Dave Gade, concerned citizens came to the rescue and saved Central Park's jewel from further deterioration. The group is celebrating the Rose Garden's 60th anniversary Friday night from 6-9 p.m. with its annual fundraiser at the River Stone Manor in Glenville.
"I saw a Gazette article about how the Rose Garden was threatened and how Bill was looking for help," remembered Cuevas, who succeeded Gade as the committee's president 14 years ago. "I was part of the Re-Tree Schenectady group, and when we heard that the Rose Garden was in dire shape, it kind of brought us all together. So we volunteered, and a small group of us have been at it ever since."
Cuevas said he knew nothing about roses when he got involved, and while Matura was an avid gardener, she was far from an expert on how to take care of roses. Fortunately, Gade and his wife Sharon knew something about the flower.
"I was brought up on a farm, and as a kid I helped my mother with her flower garden," said Gade. "So some of it rubbed off. Then, when my wife and I bought our own house in Rotterdam we planted some roses, and bingo, success. We had around 200 roses in our own yard."
Taking care of their own roses for a couple of years and their experience as members of the Schenectady Rose Society, helped make Gade and his wife perfect volunteers to lead the restoration fight at Central Park.
"When I first showed up to volunteer, I was a complete novice, so Dave's expertise has been our guiding light," said Cuevas. "After 25 years, I should be able to pick up a few things from him."
Matura, who became vice-president when Cuevas became president, said the Gades contributions have been invaluable.
"I had always done a lot of gardening, but when it comes to roses I've learned a lot over the years from Dave and Sharon," she said.
Central Park's Rose Garden was created in 1959 when Charles Brown Jr., a member of the Schenectady Rose Society, helped the city parks office turn an area that had been crushed-stone tennis courts into a flower garden. In April of 1960, 400 rose bushes were planted, and throughout the 1960s several improvements were made, including the addition of cherry trees, a rockery pool, a triangular fountain and a reflection pool.
In the 1970s, the garden grew to include 7,500 bushes and was honored by the All-America Rose Selection group as one of its 125 best gardens in the country. During the 1980s when the city began laying off members of its garden crew, things did begin to deteriorate and by 1995, Seber the Central Park Rose Garden was in jeopardy.
"When I took over some of the weeks were six-feet high," remembered Gade. "We put an article in the Gazette about how we needed help and we wanted people to just show up and pull weeds for us."
The Rose Garden needed more than just manpower, however, and fortunately one of Schenectady's most prominent citizens, Charles Carl Jr., was able to help out financially.
"He stopped by one day and asked my wife and I if he could take us to lunch," Gade said of Carl, whose family owned The Carl Company department store in Schenectady from 1906-1984. "He said he wanted to help us out, and he did. He was very generous with his money, and just a great guy."
In 2010, the work of the Gades, Cuevas, Matura and several others received well-deserved recognition when the Central Park Rose Garden was named the third best rose garden in the country by the American Rose Society.
"We've been successful because of all the work we've put in, and because of the generous spirit of the people in our community, particularly Charles Carl," said Cuevas. "People love the rose garden, and it's become quite popular with wedding parties. During the season you'll see three or four groups having their picture taken there on a Saturday. It is a special place."
While the place is in good hands, it could use a few more volunteers.
"We do need more volunteers," said Gade. "We'll train them. They don't have to know anything about roses or gardening."
During this time of the year, the committee holds at least two work parties a week (Tuesday and Thursday evenings). Matura usually makes both of those, and will also stop over at the garden and do some work on her own.
"I grew up in Schenectady and enjoy helping as much as I can with projects that the city doesn't have the manpower nor budget for. Throughout the past 25 years, we've met so many wonderful volunteers and visitors that stop at the garden. But we're always looking for more volunteers."
Central Park Rose Garden fundraiser
WHAT: A fundraiser for the Central Park Rose Garden Preservation Committee
WHERE: River Stone Manor, 1437 Amsterdam Rd., Glenville
WHEN: 6-9 p.m. Friday, June 7
HOW MUCH: $60 per ticket
MORE INFO: Visit www.schenectadyrose.org