Restoring Hometown Pride in Leonidas, Michigan

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Three years ago, Marylou MacDonald of Leonidas, Michigan, had a vision. She wanted her small town to look nice and to be a place that all the residents could take pride in. Her idea was to put hanging flower baskets throughout town. Not just a few flowers, but lots of them and big hanging baskets that folks would stop and take notice.

“The catch here is that, like anything else, it would take money,” relates town supervisor Bernard Shaw. “So, they brought it before the board and the project was approved.”

Marylou’s husband, Barry said, “For this small town, that was a huge step considering that the most recent count put our population at only 659.”

So, they started out with only five baskets. The cost for each pole, including post and basket was $100. Even though that wasn’t many for the first year, it was enough to make people stop and take notice. “It wasn’t long before folks were asking if they could have one in front of their house,” Marylou smiled.

The decision of where to place them and who got the flowers could have been an issue, but there was a simple solution to the problem. They had to call Miss Dig to see where the posts could be located without interrupting any utilities. Problem solved.

Both local residents and passersby took notice and the following year they added five more poles, and this year, they are up to fifteen. They would like to add more in the future and finding a good deal on the flowers just may help them to do that.

The baskets are filled with a variety of petunias that do not need deadheaded to keep flowering. At first, a greenhouse in Kalamazoo, MI, was supplying the plants, but then they checked with Riverbend Gardens out of Mendon, MI. Barry explains, “They are just down the road and the owner, Tony Campbell, literally bent over backwards to get our business. He gave us a good deal and he gets recognition when people comment on how beautiful our flowers are. It’s a win-win situation for both of us.”

Leonidas Township picks up the tab for the poles, baskets and flowers, while Barry and Marylou supply the labor, golf cart and gas to water and care for them throughout the summer. The township also provided a pump for the back of the golf cart so they can drive up and down the streets to do the watering.

Marylou started out doing the watering, but Barry soon took it over after a couple of close calls. He relates the scary scenario, “M-60 Highway runs right through town and, although there are posted speed limits, folks just don’t slow down. Marylou had a couple close calls. Just the other day, a semi tried to pass another big rig right here in town. So, I took over the watering.”

When asked how long it takes to water all of them, he laughed. “Well, it takes about 50 gallons of water each day and about 45 minutes to do the watering, but it has taken as long as an hour and a half, depending on how much I stop and talk!”

Even late in the season they look great. Folks swear they have a secret ingredient in the fertilizer, but Barry denies it. “Only good old Miracle Gro every couple of weeks,” he confesses.

Although he jokes about it, the close-knit small community is the reason that Marylou came up with the idea in the first place. “It’s not about the cost or the work,” Marylou is adamant. “Barry and I both were raised here, this small town is our home and it used to be beautiful when we were growing up, but then folks started to let their places get run down. I thought this would be a way to bring pride back.”

Leonidas used to be a bustling little burg. It had a hotel, five gas stations and three restaurants, plus a Ford dealership. That was before I-94 was built 29 miles to the north in 1960. After the commerce stopped flowing through Leonidas, the town dwindled. Over the years there have been various party stores, but they just can’t make a go of it.

“I guess that is an ulterior motive for the flowers,” Barry got serious. “It is six miles for us to Fulton, Colon and Mendon, the three nearest towns to us. That may not seem like much, but if you just want gas, milk or a loaf of bread it can be an inconvenience. We would love to see some commercial business locate here. There is still a lot of traffic on M-60 to support a store.”

Their efforts have not gone unnoticed. Lots of people just passing through stop and ask about the flower baskets. Other small towns have shown interest and asked how they can start the flower project in their communities.

Marylou is pleased how her idea has blossomed…pardon the pun! “We are all so blessed that God has given us these places to have and to take care of, and I just think that we all should take pride in where we live and show the world.” 

It seems to be working. Slowly, folks are taking a little more pride in their places, cleaning up around their homes and making Leonidas a beautiful town again.

Sometimes it takes just one person’s vision to make a difference.

Images courtesy of Lois Hoffman