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Tending South Deerfield memorials a honored duty

  • Diane Grybko tends the gardens on the South Deerfield Town Common.  Recorder/Paul Franz

    Diane Grybko tends the gardens on the South Deerfield Town Common. Recorder/Paul Franz Purchase photo reprints »

  • Diane Grybko helps tend the gardens on the South Deerfield Town Common and the soldiers memorial across the street from the high school. "I want our veterans’ families to drive by and know that someone still cares, hasn’t forgotten,” she said.  Recorder/Paul Franz

    Diane Grybko helps tend the gardens on the South Deerfield Town Common and the soldiers memorial across the street from the high school. "I want our veterans’ families to drive by and know that someone still cares, hasn’t forgotten,” she said. Recorder/Paul Franz Purchase photo reprints »

  • Diane Grybko tends the gardens on the South Deerfield Town Common.  Recorder/Paul Franz
  • Diane Grybko helps tend the gardens on the South Deerfield Town Common and the soldiers memorial across the street from the high school. "I want our veterans’ families to drive by and know that someone still cares, hasn’t forgotten,” she said.  Recorder/Paul Franz

SOUTH DEERFIELD — Diane Grybko says she has always held a special place in her heart for the men and women who have served the country she loves so much.

“They sacrificed so much for us,” said Grybko through tears one recent spring morning as she stood beside the World War II monument on South Deerfield’s Town Common. “They and their families deserve something from us.”

Grybko also loves flora and gardening.

Grybko, 56, stops at the South Deerfield Town Common and the soldiers memorial across the street from the high school several times a week to tend to the flowers and plants that surround them. She starts in late March or early April and doesn’t stop until late fall.

“I want our veterans’ families to drive by and know that someone still cares, hasn’t forgotten,” she said. “I want people to drive by and see how beautiful we keep things for our deceased veterans.”

Grybko began taking care of the landscaping around the town’s war monuments almost a decade ago. She said she does it as a member of the South Deerfield Women’s Club, to which she has belonged since 1986 and also as a thankful citizen and human being.

Local soldiers who served during World War I, World War II, the Korean Conflict, and in Vietnam and the Persian Gulf are memorialized on several monuments located on the common and across from the high school.

The most recent addition to the largest monument in the center of town is Sgt. Gregory Belanger, who was Franklin County’s first casualty of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Belanger, who grew up in Deerfield, was 24, engaged and living in Narragansett, R.I., when he was deployed. An improvised explosive device struck the vehicle he was traveling in and he died of his injuries on Aug. 27, 2003.

“People have brought us flowers and plants from their gardens, because they want to be a part of this,” said Grybko. “Some of them have loved ones who are memorialized here and some are like me — they simply love their country and the men and women who have served it and sacrificed for all of us.”

Day lilies, hostas, red and white geraniums and more surround the monuments and Grybko makes sure each week that they remain as colorful and vibrant as the day they were planted.

“I don’t work full-time,” she said. “I drive (school) bus for my husband’s company, so I have the luxury to do this.”

But, she doesn’t really stop thinking about it — Grybko said she is always on the lookout for annuals and perennials that might fit nicely into the mix. She said she visits roadside stands and plant swaps whenever she passes or hears about one.

“The challenge is weather and water when it’s really dry,” said Grybko. “The town is really good and also helps. Volunteers from the club and elsewhere help me and sometimes people visiting the common will water the plants.”

Grybko said she doesn’t see what she does as anything special.

“I feel it’s my duty, just as these men and women felt serving their country was theirs,” she said. “Maybe this is a very small way of serving my country — a little way to give back.”

Grybko said she and those who volunteer with her prepare the Town Common and North Main Street memorials each spring.

“We want them to be beautiful for Memorial Day,” she said. “That’s a challenge, because temperatures don’t always cooperate. Sometimes I find myself down here a lot just making sure the frost isn’t killing anything. Sometimes I come down on a spring evening and cover the plants and flowers with sheets to keep them safe and warm.”

Grybko said she doesn’t plant anything that’s tall because she wants everyone to be able to read every name on every monument.

“It’s all about respect,” she said.

Her yellow lab Ava often accompanies her.

“She just lies and watches,” she said. “It’s like she knows.”

Grybko, who has lived in South Deerfield for 33 years, said nothing makes her feel better than having someone stop to say “thank you” for caring for South Deerfield’s fallen veterans.

Married to Leonard Grybko Jr., they have four grown children, Amanda, Katie, Kristyn and Stephen, and live close to the common, so many times Grybko, who grew up in Whately, walks there, sits on one of the three benches, and admires the color that surrounds the monuments, as well as the stone water fountain that sits nearby.

She said her parents taught her about the importance of volunteering and giving back to one’s community.

“The great part about volunteering is that you can’t get fired,” she laughed. “I plan to do this until I no longer can.”

Grybko said her goal each year is to get perennials to come back and fill in with new annuals.

“What’s nice about this is that hundreds of people drive by the common each day,” she said. “Some will never stop or get out of their cars, but they will see who we are and what we care about in South Deerfield.”

“If this makes people smile, I feel like I’ve done my job,” said Grybko. “In this age of apathy, it’s nice to take even just a few seconds to enjoy beauty and feel happy and cheerful while honoring our vets at the same time.”

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