If a sprinkler wasn’t working or a lock needed replacing at the Garden of Eaton community garden, Frank Smith was there to do it. At 90 years old, he didn’t work for the garden, but still kept a watchful eye on it from his house next door, and maintained it meticulously.
Smith passed away in January, leaving behind not only his family, but his beloved garden plot at the community garden tucked behind Blessed Trinity Catholic Church. He quickly became a figurehead of the garden after it opened in 2009. Gardeners and Smith’s family came together Saturday to paint a memorial mural on the garden’s tool shed.
Hans Zuuring, a fellow gardener who built the shed a few years ago, helped paint the scene of Smith working in the garden. Zuuring said he met Smith right after the garden opened, and they had been friends since.
“He was the watchman here,” Zuuring said. “He was always out here making sure the sprinklers were working, and chasing away any kids that were stealing tomatoes. If there was a problem with something, he wouldn’t say a word, he’d just fix it.”
From his house just outside the fence of the garden, Smith kept a watchful eye, and always found a reason to tend his plot if someone else dropped by the garden. His daughter, Janetta Brewer, said the garden was his favorite place to socialize.
“He’d come piddle around like he was doing things, but really he just came down to talk,” Brewer said. “He’d look around his garden for a couple minutes, then make his rounds to chat and make comments on the other gardens. He certainly had his opinions about everyone else’s plot.”
Smith grew up on a farm in North Dakota, served in the Army during World War II in Japan, and worked for the railroad in Laurel, Montana. He moved to Missoula after retiring to be closer to his two daughters.
Despite the cold and rain, Smith’s garden still had a few tomato bushes, marigolds and cabbage plants in late September thanks to Breanna Roy, Smith’s granddaughter, along with other family members, who pitched in to keep his garden plot alive this summer.
Garden City Harvest operations coordinator Patrick Long said Smith’s family was nervous about letting him down if the garden wasn’t perfect. Smith would be proud though, he said, as it was probably the best plot of the 30.
“I remember one time Frank got mad at me for adjusting the water system because he thought that was his job,” Long said. “Of course it wasn’t, he just really cared about this place, and I know a lot of people here missed having him around this summer.”
For Smith’s funeral, all sorts of people from the community garden came and gave his family a card full of memories and stories of Smith, his eldest daughter Jeane Aller said.
“That really meant a lot, to see all those stories and people who cared so much to come,” Aller said. “All of the memorial donations from the funeral went to the community garden, which is what he would have wanted. This was really his happy place for the last years of his life.”