Wednesday, September 11, 2013

On the quiet passing of two Lake County giants

Lake County is two giants fewer today and that makes our tight-knit community a much sadder place to be this day.

It is very unlikely that Hugh D. Pallister Jr. and Rudy V. Veselko Sr. ever bumped into each other, let alone were poker-playing buddies.

Yet both men left a valued footprint in the history of Lake County, for rather different reasons.

On second thought, maybe there just happens to be a common thread in an environmental sort of way.

The obituaries of the 100-year-old Pallister is laid out one space away from that of the 92-year-old Veselko in today's News-Herald, these giants passing on two days apart.

Their short obit narratives do neither man justice, however.

Right up front let us pay tribute to the fact that both men were World War II veterans; Pallister as an Army officer and Veselko as a Marine.

Diverging, Pallister was both an accomplished public servant and an ardent supporter of protecting Lake County's open space.

Pallister served for 24 years as a councilman for his adopted hometown of Willoughby. In 1984 the city even bestowed the honor of “Distinguished Citizen of the Year” on Pallister.

For those of us in the arena of conservation, the environment or whatever you want to call it, Pallister was an active participant and leader in the protection of Lake County's natural resources.

The list of environmental agencies, organizations and affiliations centered around Pallister's outdoors world are almost too many to number.

Even so we will name a few, among them being Lake Metroparks, the Burrough's Nature Club, the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, and the Western Reserve Land Conservancy.

And whenever I saw Pallister he virtually always was with his muse; wife Gretta.

Together this two-for-one environmental dynamo was a force for good to be reckoned with as they worked to secure for future generations such threatened Lake County properties as Gully Brook in Willoughby-Willoughby Hills.

When that jewel was installed in Lake Metroparks' crown, in some not-so-inconsequential way it was due to the efforts of Hugh and Gretta who saw to it that the stone would be purchased and then polished to its present high luster.

At all times, too, Hugh was of the old school; polite and mannerly almost to a fault.

Kindly to those whom he met, Hugh also was always amply pleasant whenever he answered my telephone calls seeking his or Gretta's thoughts on this or that Lake County environmental matter.

Others believe the same way as well.

Bob Riggin, former Willoughby councilman who served with Pallister for a couple of terms, says he lost both a fellow former public servant and more importantly, a good friend.

“Hugh was a great guy, very conscientious with a real concern for Willoughby as well as being equally well involved with the Chamber of Commerce,” Riggin said.

Riggin said he also worked closely with Pallister on Lake Metroparks matters. That was when Riggin was a park board commissioner and Pallister served on this or that agency advisory committee.

“He did a lot and he accomplished a lot,” said Riggin.

Yes, he did.

Then again, so did Veselko. In his own way, that is.

Veselko was the founder of the now-closed Veselko's Greenhouse in Mentor.

Though I willingly admit that Veselko hardly could be called an associate let alone a friend, I did see his greenhouse business as central Lake County's go-to home vegetable plant and flower bed gardening store.

Then again, so did a lot of other urban backyard farmers, such as my late fishing companion, Dean Palmer of Willoughby Hills.

That I came to learn by reading Veselko's obit that he was one of Lake County's first bedding plant specialist was one of those “uh-huh” movements. While it was a detail unfamiliar to me the fact didn't overwhelm me as being unthinkable.

Veselko knew his stuff about plants

Which helps explain why from late April through May Veselko's Greenhouse was alive with customer activity. We would cruise the shop's isles, depending upon the sunlight filtering through the greenhouse's somewhat dingy glass in order to see what we wanted to purchase.

And as often as not for me that meant experimenting with some of the many varieties of tomato plants Veselko's seemed to stock.

Sure as rain, too, early in each planting season I'd inquire about buying such plant stock as beans or whatever, only to be gruffly rebuked by Veselko that I was too quick to ask for a vegetable that wouldn't be ready for a few more weeks.

Yet every pre-growing season I'd carry to the car my mush-mash of tomato and pepper varieties, knowing that the bank account was a tad slimmer and my behind a smidgen chewed out for asking so very obviously a dumb gardening question.

No matter, as I'd return the following spring to go at it again with Veselko and his hardy veggie plant factory.

And so Lake County has seen the passing of two divergent individuals, each a World War II veteran and both men of high caliber in their own respective and unique way.

Thank you, gentlemen, you helped transform Lake County into a better place by being giants among us.

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

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