Sue, I received the deadening news of Mike Lapisky’s leaving us with sadness. Mike was my first mentor for the Master Gardener Hotline from 2015 until 2020. My first workshop was on propagation in the greenhouse classroom. I looked, and expected to see, Vanessa our new Director there; but quietly there in a seat near the back I noticed a guy who smiled and nodded at me. I learned he was Mike Lapisky, quietly nodding, smiling, and taking in who was there; learning by example to see if there was something new.
After that first class, I left my volunteering in the greenhouses because I was invited to join the Thursday Hotline group. I started on Thursday’s with Mike where Carol and her husband, and Gina were busy answering the phones and researching gardening answers, with occasional visits from Rosie.
First, Mike said soil tests, so I learned to soil test, then to test and validate the meters. Then about the soil and how to interpret their Ph values, and how to foster better soils, and to accompany the gardener’s soil test answers, either online or in person, with individualizing for each lawn, vegetable(s), or flower(s). I learned about “Mow, Blow and Go,” and the “Lawn Rangers.”
At Mike’s urging, I moved on to researching questions on-line, sometimes about diseases in nurseries, and sometimes to sites weird and wonderful with gardening or research knowledge on the World Wide Web. Next, I volunteered to answer e-mails through the winter, which was great as I could do it from afar. All this on a journey propagated and prompted by Mike’s gentle interest, tremendous people skills, great insights, humor, and that human touch so few have with their encouragement. Mike always entered the room with a kind word, or a shake of the hand, or “What’s Hot today?” During the pandemic Mike sent out humorous jokes that relieved the searches. As I got to know him more, we would discuss our medical experiences, and share knowledge about treatments we had heard of. Mike was the master of the personal.
During all these Mike-propagated adventures we were graduated to answering phone calls. Mike had a keen eye for the gardeners who called in, and we assiduously adhered to Mike’s “Listen to them, understand what they need, always get their number, and get back to them today; or tell them when or how they will be contacted.” I remember telling him about a beaver dam I had seen from the bike path, and he gave me a contact at the Fish and Wildlife Service, and they looked at the dam.
I learned that some callers like to call back and ask for people who do a good job with the research and want different questions answered. Mike was always the highest on that list, and Hotline questions that could not be answered on other days, would filter down to Thursdays when Mike would answer them.
Today Sue, on my walk up 1A to the spot where there is a bridge that spans the Narrow River, I noticed a new sign as I paused to view the river above the John Chafee Reserve. The sign from US Fish and Wildlife tells the story Remembering the Shack on Sedge Island, and I was instantly struck by Mike’s thoughtful kindnesses, his persistence in mentoring so many different wonderful people’s paths, before he moved them to another Hotline day.
As I stood, I remembered Mike’s committal to the environment, to the outdoors, and to gardening in an ecologically, scientifically friendly way. Mike’s role in encouraging Native plants and habitats. The world is less of a place without Mike Lipisky, but he lives on in many Hotliners hearts and minds, in my heart and mind, as well as in the many other lives he touched.