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Ripon retirees enjoy growing hobby
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Retired from the jungles of New Guinea where he served as a missionary for 40 years, Don Gibbons smiles through his stalks of corn seeing the mature ears before him. - photo by GLENN KAHL
RIPON – Tending their vegetable gardens in the cool of the morning brings solace to three Ripon men who turn the soil for the fun of growing corn, tomatoes, squash, potatoes, bell peppers, cantaloupes, beans and watermelons.

With tongue in cheek, they readily admit to having weeds, too, that have to be pulled daily.
Retired pastor Doug Vander Wall takes pride in his 12-foot-high bean stalk that stands tall over nearby rows of corn.

Don Gibbons spent 40 years in New Guinea as a missionary among Stone Age tribes. Now he grins ear to ear over the corn he is growing in the community garden located on an acre of land behind the Almond Valley Christian Reformed Church on Wilma Avenue.

Frank Miller was formerly an outside salesman for Stanislaus Glass in Modesto and retired in Ripon with his wife to be near two of their children. Frank does well with his tomato production and prides his hose-fed irrigation system.

The men said the church provided the garden site for their growing venture and even provided the water hookup. A junction valve allows each of the gardeners to run their own drip line into their 50-foot-long sections.

The garden project got started in 1995 when Doug Vander Wall retired from pasturing a church in Connecticut, moving into Bethany Home’s Garden Apartments. He would serve as Bethany’s chaplain for some nine y ears.

His first garden was developed behind Dr. Daryl Dutter’s medical offices on Vera Avenue until it was later paved over for parking. It all became a reality with the help of then-Bethany Home administrator Bruce Nichol.

The three men now have from four to seven rows of garden each, 50 feet long, planted in the varieties of their choice. They have two compost bins and one compost pile making use of the lawn clippings from the church landscaping. Vander Wall said they lay the grass between their rows until it ferments and then turn it into the soil next to the growing vegetables. It works best for the potatoes, he said.

The garden is year-round, growing such things as carrots, red and white cabbage, broccoli, brussel sprouts, beets, radishes and cauliflower in the winter months.

Don Gibbons and his wife Alice moved to Ripon in February from their missionary home of four generations in New Guinea. In that country, the natives had a diet of sweet potatoes and greens which was right in line with a garden near their new home. It was on a walk around the new community that they ran into Vander Wall and his wife Helen. It was an open invitation to join in the vegetable garden project.

The couple said they had been praying that someone would let them plant a garden in their back yard. It was a dream come true along with their new home right next to the busy Ripon Senior Center.

Vander Wall said he strings up his tomatoes on twine so they grow to a height of six feet. “I’ve got watermelon and cantaloupe, too,” he chimed. The retired pastor planted 20 pounds of potatoes and harvested 200.

Frank Miller said it’s great to get out in the cool of the morning and work half an hour to an hour tending the garden. It gives them all something to look forward to every day and watch their garden grow.

As for what they produce, what isn’t given away goes into their home freezers to go on the table in later months. Miller’s wife, Jeanette, noted that “It’s a man’s thing” in the garden but noted her husband brings his harvest home for her to clean up before they are given out to friends.
She added that she has canned her share of beets from the garden. They both lived in the Modesto area from the 1950s.

The men said they have been surprised that no one else has  joined in their hobby because there is room for more planting on the nearly an acre plot.