BATAVIA – As Nancy Mortellaro said simply at the garden dedication, “I love flowers.”
Mortellaro, a longtime volunteer and supporter of the Richmond Memorial Library, sat surrounded by family and friends near the entrance to the Ross Street Library during the dedication of the Lisianthus Flower Garden this morning .
Gregg McAllister, Chairman of the Library Board, thanked everyone for coming and said Mortellaro’s dedication to the Batavia community was exemplary.
“All of us, as residents of this community, benefit from his vision and his energy through his involvement in several organizations. She was particularly a dear friend at the library, always interested in what is happening here, involved and supportive. She is currently a member of the Library Foundation Board of Trustees,” McAllister said. “Nancy’s dedication to the library has taken many forms over the decades, but most recently and visibly it has centered here, in the flower bed around which we stand this morning.”
Mortellaro is one of those unique people who is willing to get their hands dirty and get involved directly where there is a need, the chairman of the board said. She started several years ago by buying, planting and maintaining this garden, filling it with Lisianthus, a flower that is her favorite and that many Batavians, myself included, did not know. As the physical demands of planting and maintaining the garden became more difficult, she recruited volunteers and also provided financial support for the necessary work.
“And the community takes notice. So many people would come to the library asking what kind of flower was in that garden, the staff had to put up a sign,” McAllister said.
Just last week, McAllister said, he walked out of the library to find Mortellaro there, watering the garden. She keeps being involved in something she loves, he says. The library board appreciates her generosity and effort and wanted to find a way to thank her.
“Dedicating this garden to Nancy is our special way of honoring and saying thank you,” he said.
Library director Robert Conrad said that when he learned the garden would be dedicated to Mortellaro, he sought out the occasional poem.
“It’s a poem that’s still a poem, but you read it on one occasion. What I found was that most of the poems about gardens or flowers were metaphors for sex or death, including one that was a direct metaphor for digging graves or robbing graves,” said he said, to the laughter of those gathered for the dedication. “Knowing Nancy, I think she would have liked any of them, but I, Bob Conrad, would have been embarrassed. So, I found a poem that is not entirely about sex or death, but rather about reading, reaching and touching many generations.
The short poem was “The Gardener 85” by Rabindranath Tagore and it went like this:
“Who are you, reader, reading my poems a hundred years from now?
I cannot send you a single flower of this richness of spring, a single golden streak from the clouds there.
Open your doors and look abroad.
From your flower garden, collect the fragrant memories of flowers that disappeared a hundred years ago.
In the joy of your heart may you feel the living joy that sang one spring morning, sending its joyful voice through a hundred years.
As for the community recognition Mortellaro received today, she said, “It certainly warms my heart. I am so lucky. I’m so lucky. I always said I wanted this on my headstone: “She was so lucky.”
“Thank you all,” she said, adding, “My family is all here because we have a family reunion this weekend.”
Earlier this week, Conrad told the Daily News that having moved to Batavia just eight years ago, he knew Mortellaro primarily as a wonderful library patron. In 2011, she was named Friend of the Year by the Friends of the Library. Mortellaro has been a founding and active member of the Richmond Memorial Library Foundation since 2015. She served on the Batavia City School Board when the library was added in 1979.
She and her husband, the late Gasper Mortellaro, owned and operated G. Mortellaro & Sons Onion Farms for many years, which produces the Cry Baby brand of onions and remains in the family. Konrad said. It is now operated by his sons, Matt and Paul.
“For the past few years, Nancy has donated Lisianthus flowers to a flowerbed at the foot of Ross Street from the Library Lane. She started by planting them herself every year, then recruited and supervised volunteers to help her,” Conrad said. “These flowers have quickly become a very visible part of the library’s ‘summer look’, and many people just come and ask us what they are. I understand that the library board simply wanted to thank Nancy for these beautification efforts, by dedicating the garden to her.