Jose Mares loves planting flowers and watching them bloom — not only in his garden but next door, too, at the Kenosha Rotary Safety Center, 5716 14th Ave. 


One-man Beautification Committee - Safety Center Neighbor Turns Neglected Corner into Flower Garden 


Jose Mares loves planting flowers and watching them bloom — not only in his garden but next door, too, at the Kenosha Rotary Safety Center, 5716 14th Ave.

Thanks to Mares, 73, the border ringing the center’s asphalt parking lot is a beautiful, bright yellow explosion of black-eyed susans, interspersed with purple, lavender, red, pink, white, goldenrod and green.

Mares asked Safety Of- ficer Dennis Walsh, of the Kenosha Police Depart- ment, three years ago for permission to spruce up the grounds. Walsh, better known in the community as “Officer Friendly,” glad- ly accepted Mares’ offer.

“We had a couple bushes there, maybe a few ever- greens, but there wasn’t much,” Walsh said, eyeing the rectangular parking

lot perimeter. “He came over, said he loved flowers and asked if he could plant some there.

“Now,” Walsh added, “it’s like a botanical garden. He kept going at it. He’s in there every day, wa- tering, pulling weeds. It’s amazing what he’s done. We have butterflies here now. The neighbors really like it. Some come over and get seeds from the plants.” 

Mares and his wife hail 

from Mexico. They moved into their home adjacent to the center almost 20 years ago.

Until a few years ago, Walsh said, he and Mares knew each other only casu- ally. They’d wave to each other and voice greetings, but they had little contact otherwise. Walsh occasion- ally cleared snow from Mares’ sidewalk. Mares began mowing the center’s grass.

The gardening at the center began in earnest after Mares, a retired land- scaper, painfully observed 

Walsh spraying herbicide to keep down weeds. “I
tell him, ‘Dennis, no use poison,’ because poison kill everything,” Mares said.

Mares volunteered to take over the garden for his own enjoyment. “Me, (I) like to see every morning when I get up, to see nice all around my house,” Mares said.

Walsh nodded. “I just like watching the wind blowing and everything moving,” he said, eyeing the floral oasis.

Mark Molinaro, an ex- ecutive board member and past president of Kenosha Rotary, said the club was “completely surprised” at how Mares’ gardening had transformed the property.

“It’s a forest of colors and perennial flowers,” 

Molinaro said.
Last year, the club in-

vited Mares to a luncheon in his honor.

“He is way too unassum- ing to do anything more than that. He doesn’t think he deserves any recogni- tion,” Molinaro said. “As

a club, we know how hard it is to get volunteers to do anything. Mr. Mares, of his own volition, started there by mowing the grass. I stop and see him once in awhile. Whenever I talk to him it’s apparent he could not be happier than to be outside in his element.”

Mares played down such compliments.

“Soil is soil, you know? Sometimes, the soil just needs fertilizer,” Mares said.