Dave Schaenzer had a simple reason for caring for the garden beds on the west side of Lake of the Isles.
“I figured I paid for the beds,” he said of the shrubs, which the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board planted. “I might as well take care of them.”
So about 10 years ago, Schaenzer began weeding them, starting with one several blocks from his Kenwood home. The Medtronic engineer weeded and added mulch to a total of eight beds on the west side of the lake over the course of a couple years.
His work caught the attention of the Park Board, which became curious as to the identity of the mystery gardener. The board did an inventory of the beds around the lakes at one point and was surprised at how few weeds were in the beds on the west side of Lake of the Isles, according to Environmental Stewardship Volunteer Coordinator Sherry Brooks.
“At that point, we really didn’t know what was going on,” Brooks said. “Nobody really knew who it was. … There were just these rumors.”
One rumor said the anonymous volunteer was a math professor at the University of Minnesota, according to Brooks. Another said the volunteer was a retiree. A third said he was an engineer.
The mystery ended in 2012, when Schaenzer signed up to be a park steward for the garden beds on the west side of Lake of the Isles. The agreement gave him access to mulch delivery from the city, something he’d previously done on his own.
It’s not unusual for Schaenzer to spend up to 20 hours a week weeding and hand-pruning roses and junipers. He also spreads more than 10 yards of wood mulch each season.
“He’s had a nice effect on the entire lake,” Brooks said, noting subsequent efforts to care for Peavy Fountain on the north edge of Lake of the Isles and another garden bed near Lake Calhoun.
Jeanette Colby, president of the Kenwood Isles Area Association, said she appreciates Schaenzer’s willingness to make his community a better place.
“With parks, I think it really matters that people have some ownership and just feel empowered to do it, which is what I love about what Dave did,” Colby said. “He’s had a great impact on the aesthetics of the area, and I think it was probably a good experience for him, too.”
Schaenzer, who moved to Kenwood in 2001, grew up with parents who gardened and had fruit trees in their yard. It didn’t hurt either that Schaenzer’s family instructed the self-proclaimed early riser to keep the in-house noise levels down early in the mornings.
The Park Board recognized Schaenzer’s efforts last month by awarding him a volunteer of the year award. The agency also honored the Park Siding Park/Calhoun-Isles-Dean Neighborhood Association gardeners group, which is entering its 21st year as garden stewards at Park Siding Park.
The Park Board recognized seven individuals and three groups at the ceremony. A donation of $500 will be made to the park program where each of the honorees volunteers.