This is the first of a series of articles we will run over the next three days highlighting the winners of the Genesee County Chamber of Commerce awards for 2012. The awards gala is Saturday evening at the Clarion Hotel.
When Barb Toal went on a sightseeing trip to Rome, Italy, with her sister six years ago, she sat in a beautiful garden across from the Colosseum to rest for a few minutes. At the time she had no idea what the garden was, only that it was a wonderful peaceful spot to sit and take a break.
Fast forward two years later to 2009.
Barb is sitting in the living room of Paula Savage, president of the International Peace Garden Association, who is trying to convince Barb to help set up an International Peace Garden commemorating the War of 1812 in the City of Batavia.
As the two women sat discussing the project, Paula had a laptop on the coffee table running pictures of International Peace Gardens from around the world. Barb froze when she saw a photo of the beautiful garden she remembered sitting in a few years earlier on her trip to Rome.
After scrolling through a few more of Paula's photoss, Barb recognized another garden she visited the following year after her trip to Italy -- in Dublin, Ireland.
"It's pretty ironic. I've been to two of them now. This is a no-brainer. I gotta get involved," Toal said.
Being president of the Holland Land Office Museum at the time, she thought this would be good use for the vacant land to the east of the museum and a good way to bring more people in to visit the Holland Land Office."This is a great fit, a perfect fit," Toal thought. The idea was now planted.
She then solicited the help of longtime friend Carol Grasso. The two have been friends since ninth grade and both graduated from Pembroke High School together.
"I just knew I had to be a part of it," Grasso says.
"This community, we knew since we were little, would come together to make this happen," Toal added.
Armed with seven solid volunteers, the group now referred to as "Friends of the Batavia Peace Garden" went to work. After four years of meetings, fundraising, and solicitations, they were ready to make the garden a reality.
Running into many obstacles along the way, the project had to be accomplished one day at time. The electric wiring and digging through the base of Walnut Street and the old bridge was a stopper.
"After the electric meeting we were whipped. We thought, 'we can't do this and it's not gonna happen,' Toal said. It was like climbing a mountain, I slipped went down 10 notches then had to go up another 10 again." She said she learned a lot about patience over those four years.
Toal said they knew what they had to do, but had no money. It was amazing how the community came out to help. There were 15 landscaping trucks in the prime season that showed up and volunteered to revamp the once-barren land.
Martin Dilcher, of Dilcher's Excavating, who nominated the group for the award, was driving by the work in progress one day and spotted Barb using a jackhammer. She was making her way through layers of old buildings and solid rock to create a 5-foot hole in the ground for the electric and base for the globe. Dilcher yelled out to her, "What are you trying to do kill yourself ?" Dilcher showed up at 9 a.m. the next morning with a backhoe to help out.
When Toal needed someone to make the giant metal globe she turned to her neighbor Rob Barone who is a welder. He didn't know what she really wanted.
Toal made a trip to BJ's Wholesale and purchased a glass globe in a box and showed it to Barone. She also handed over a few pictures of one located in the Town of Lima. Barone then solicited the help of Patrick Waite, and together they created the globe that is currently on display at the Garden.
According to Grasso, "There were a lot of ups and downs. We didn't think we were going to make it, especially moneywise, but we did it."
She says people can't wait to help out and fund-raise now.
The Friends of the Batavia Peace Garden will be holding their third annual fundraiser dinner to be held at Terry Hills April 27th. They are planning a fashion show and are honoring Joe Gerace and Carolyn Pratt this year.
May 11th they will be having a birthday party and celebrate by raising the 23 flags for the year. It will be a community day from 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Everyone is welcome to come out and join in the festivities.
The Batavia Peace Garden commemorating the War of 1812 is stop number 13 of 25 on a 600-mile trail that runs through Canada and the United States. Batavia became the rallying point in the War of 1812. British forces burned 200 homes in Youngstown, many families then relocated to the Batavia area to take shelter.
Three more gardens were added to the trail last year. All are located in the Thousand Islands region of New York State. Brussels, Belgium, will be the location of the next garden. It will be created in 2014.
Toal says the group has plans on expanding the Batavia Garden in 2014. They want to extend the grounds to include the area behind the Genesee County Courts facility near the falls of the Tonawanda Creek. They will add more flags and possibly a gazebo.
Toal, who is now retired, says she is more busy now being president of the Friends of the Batavia Peace Garden. She says, "It hasn't been a hard road, just a long road to get to this point."
"To think what we've done in a couple of years, it's humbling to think we got this award," Grasso says. "It's was worth every drop of sweat that we had. All the hard work, the back-breaking digging. It's amazing."
Anyone interested in buying a brick or path stone can contact Barb Toal at 585-344-2548 or e-mail her at btoal@ rochester.rr.com.
The group also has a new Web site, bataviapeacegarden.org.
Photo by Howard Owens. From left, Barb Toal, Mary Ellen Wilber, Carol Grasso, and Berneda Scoins.