Column: Taking a step back from Spruce Up Austin

Published 8:28 am Wednesday, December 8, 2010

If I never hear “That’s not the way we do it at Hormel Foods” again I won’t miss it.

Truth be told, the president of the Spruce Up Austin, Inc. board of directors was starting to get on my nerves, when I decided to hang up my pruning shears and resign from the organization at the end of 2010.

Sure. She’s bright, articulate, well-organized and attractive for a director of purchasing at a Fortune 500 company, but the constant “That’s not the way we do it at Hormel Foods” comment when I would suggest something to her, was just too much for me to take.

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Of course, there were other signs the time had come when I needed to move on. After two decades of serving the community betterment organization, I was suffering from burn out.

For instance, I distinctly remember planting stuff in a huge concrete planter at the intersection of 9th Avenue Southeast and South Main Street, where Dick and Charlene Kelly used to live.

Then, I found myself there again one Saturday morning this fall, taking up all the plants we had planted.

Unless, we got some economic stimulus package money to spend, this was the kind of make-work project the Bridge to Nowhere was over the Cedar River near the Roosevelt Bridge.

What were they thinking?

I admit at first I enjoyed running the traditional Good Luck Gauntlet before each project and receiving a pat on the heiny, but it became old quickly.

I tried my best to be a good secretary for the organization, but I discovered I couldn’t please everyone, particularly Harlan Nelson.

The latter grew increasingly fond of correcting my mistakes in the minutes of the meeting. I’m sure it was just a coincidence they involved inadvertently leaving Nelson’s name out. “I seconded that motion; not Jim Larson,” Nelson would remind me.

Geesh! Get a life Nelson. You’re so insecure.

Kelly Lady knew how to push my buttons and get a reaction. “The boys over at Austin Utilities still remember those jokes you made about them in your column,” she told me. “Now, we have a new general manager from Iowa. Let’s see you poke fun at him.”

I really thought Jan Chuick and Bonnie Mogen were my friends until they rigged our monthly raffle drawings, so I couldn’t win. “You don’t have to sign your name on the ticket, Lee. We’ll know it’s yours if nobody else wants the prizes,” Mogen reminded me more than once.

About those Independence Days, where Spruce Up Austin had a float in the FreedomFest parades. I had to be forced by Julie Thomsen to make a fool of myself. Basically, I’m a quiet and shy guy.

I met a lot of nice people when we did a project; many were not Spruce Up Austin board members. I mean after a while, the old, “Why don’t you water the utility poles, Lee?” wasn’t funny.

And whoever it was that kept goosing me when I bent over to pick up my shovel ought to be arrested. I have my own suspicions. You should be ashamed of yourself Gretchen Ramlo.

I don’t know how many times it was that I got a voice mail message on the phone directing me to “Be at Mill Pond for mulching” only to bike over there and found myself waiting alone next to a flock of ducks, while a police car drove by.

I spent last New Year’s Eve, leaning on a shovel at East Side Lake, waiting for my Spruce Up Austin friends to plant a Millennium Maple tree before it dawned on me the millennium wasn’t up yet. That had to be the work of Darlene Thaisen, who never did like me.

Kathy Borland was a real kick in the pants, when we worked together at the Summer Yard and Garden Tour. “Go ahead, Lee. Pick some flowers. They will never miss them,” she told me. I was chased from more gardens than you could imagine.

“Boys will be boys,” I know and nowhere was that more evident than when Howard Nepp and Jack Sherman would play a prank on me, when we were planting trees. They enjoyed sneaking up, bending over, dropping their pants and firing a couple of rockets that scared the Bejeezus out of me.

Of course, there was Mike Ruzek, co-founder, past president, project leader and tyrant.

He’s the one who christened me “Bonzai Bonorden” and recruited me to join the organization after a week at the Blandin Foundation’s community leadership camp.

I will admit Ruzek did come in handy while I planted over 2,500 trees in Austin over the last 20 years.

Now, it’s coming to an end. Wouldn’t you know it? Melanie “That’s not the way we do it at Hormel Foods” is taking over my secretary duties.

There will be new board members, but an old mission for Spruce Up Austin in 2011: Protecting the environment and improving the quality of life in Austin. Nobody does it better than SUA.

Well, I have to stop. I just got a call: They want me to help plant another Millennium Maple in the middle of Wescott Athletic Field tonight at midnight. Of course, I couldn’t say “No” to Spruce Up Austin.

I just don’t get the laughter I heard in the background. Was that Lynn Cunningham and Kim Underwood giggling like teenagers?