We missed him when he was gone for just a few days on one of his fishing or camping trips. Now we’ll have to make do without him forever. Morrie Granger died suddenly on Monday, April 9. We are left wondering how we will cope without his daily visits with Rocky, the always-hungry lab, seeing him kibitzing with Willa every morning on our walks, or welcoming neighbors to the next potluck at his and Barb’s magical garden and hippie haven.
Some knew him as the science professor at UC Irvine who helped develop Enbrel, the treatment for rheumatoid arthritis, but we in the neighborhood knew him as the warm and cheerful instigator of community togetherness.
He did this in the most grand way by insisting that we needed to find a place for a community garden, similar to the one that had been started by Ali Taghavi in 2002 as an adjunct to his fruit and vegetable stand at Eagle Rock and Coast Highway. That one had been disassembled when the property was sold in 2004. During its brief existence that garden had inspired back to the earth growingness, down home get-togethers, a spark of beauty where there had been a parking lot.
For five years Morrie looked for another location, contacting owners of vacant lots in the area for permission to install a garden on their land. The answer was always no until we heard that Paul Tran had purchased the site of the old garden. He lived in Baton Rouge, La., but had been helpful to the city by allowing the use of his property for a staging area for a construction project on Coast Highway. Morrie contacted him and–seemed like a miracle to me–Tran generously signed an agreement allowing us to install and operate the community garden for an indefinite period.
That was just the beginning of an on-going adventure in community and garden building. When we cleaned the weedy lot in August of 2009 Morrie was filling the trash bags. When the shed arrived on the flatbed truck from North Laguna, Morrie helped push it into place. Every hearing at the city, every step of construction, every set-up for events Morrie spoke, dug, and hauled. Tom Joliet, Steve O’Connor and Morrie built the steps from the upper to lower garden. On Monday as Tom and Steve were repairing the stair rail Tom said he felt, “Morrie was there with us.”
Morrie wasn’t a gardener, in fact he didn’t seem to much like vegetables. Barbara is the gardener in the family and the promoter of healthy eating. “She cooks up some green stuff, I don’t know what it is, but I eat it,” he chuckled. He wasn’t a gardener but he loved to be a part of people coming together and enjoying themselves.
The day we completed the upper garden in October 2009, was also the date of the Grangers’ Halloween Party, a yearly adventure in creative costumes, decorations, music, and celebration that attracted what seemed like hundreds of revelers. If there was an occasion, there was a potluck at the Grangers. Somehow he kept up with all the new neighbors, and all were invited.
One evening in November 2013 Morrie called with alarming news; Mr. Tran had sold the garden lot. When Tran put the lot on the market he offered us a discounted price and we started a fundraising campaign. But now he had accepted a full price offer. Was the garden going to have to close? But we kept on keeping on, making the garden more beautiful and welcoming. Now the prospects for purchase are better than ever with our continued fundraising ($175, 000 so far) and a generous commitment from the city toward a purchase. Step by step the garden idea has grown, thanks to Morrie’s insistence and perseverance.
All neighborhoods should have a Morrie. We had ours for a long time and we’re grateful.
We like to think that he’s just gone fishing. He’ll be back soon.
Ann Christoph is a landscape architect and former council member. Along with Bill Rihn, Morrie Granger and Ruben Flores she was a founding member of the South Laguna Community Garden Park. She is also an emeritus member of the Board of South Laguna Civic Association, which manages the Garden.