I have to admit, at first I was petrified. Here I was, trailing behind a beaming bundle of energy named Stephen Baldonado who clearly knew his job and knew his volunteers like nothing else. The cast began to enter the garden from all directions and instantly there were more names and faces than I knew what to do with. “This is Gloria and Andrea and Sally and Brigitte...” I just tried to keep up, having already forgotten half the names fed to me. Joe and Nancy and Susan and Tadpole. Tadpole?! Oh gosh, what have I gotten myself into? With ease Stephen assigned the tasks and put the mass of smiling faces quickly to work, sweeping and skimming and deadheading this picture-perfect secret garden. I nodded to a tall, slender gentleman efficiently snipping some past dahlias and asked, “Remind me his name?” “Oh, Bill, Bill Dodds,” Stephen began. “You’re going to love him,” he said facing me with an open-eyed honesty that naturally made me smile in return. I learned that Bill was from Iowa and in no time we were talking about the value of family and friends and how we both came to the Big Apple. Over the weeks the names became more known as the blooms continued to change. Volunteers would come and go from week to week but quickly I learned I was always going to see Bill. Every Tuesday and every Thursday I got to start my day with my new friend, getting a ton done and seeing where the conversation would take us. I got insight into backstage Broadway, to stars and starlets you’ve only ever seen in the magazines or read about in the papers. Bill would talk about his favorites and those who made his blood boil. I just sat back and soaked it all in, loving the insight into this man and a side of New York I never knew before. I thought to myself, “this is why I live in this city, this is why I love my job.” Through the seasons and through the years Bill and I would make short work of the tasks at hand, always doing our best to please the Warden while having a perfectly fine time together. Eventually I would be wheeling the overflowing cart of tools and under the mighty crabapple the inmates would report to me. I would get to know the strengths and weaknesses of my different volunteers, as well as myself. And through it all there was never any question in my mind when it came to Bill. This guy... This guy’s a real inspiration, a testament to hard work and perseverance, having the right attitude, and enjoying the life we make for ourselves. There is no question my life is ineffably enriched by one Bill Dodds, and to you sir, because there are not enough words to articulate, I will simply say Thank You! Thank you for the times we’ve spent and thank you for the fun times yet to come. It’s an honor to say you are my friend.
Cheers, Alex Feleppa