Illustration by Randall Nelson
2013 Volunteer Hall of Fame: Leonard Gloeb
Day job: Ramsey County master gardener
Volunteerism: Children’s Hospitals and Clinics
Leonard Gloeb hated hospitals. He avoided doctors. He didn’t want to relive the scary tonsillectomy experience he had undergone as a kid. But he didn’t want anyone else to suffer the way he had either, so the master gardener did something brave: He went to the hospital.
Gloeb walked into Children’s Hospital with the idea that plants could help kids struggling with life-threatening illnesses adapt to hospital surroundings and procedures. That was 27 years ago. Since then he’s racked up more than 15,000 volunteer hours through a program he co-founded called My Little Green Friends.
The program works like this: When kids are admitted to the hospital, they are given their choice of a plant to take care of in their room, if they want one. No pressure. The kids then use hospital cups as pots, tongue depressors to dig soil, and syringes to water their plant. As they do, they become more comfortable with the tools doctors and nurses use on them daily. They also start to relax.
Gloeb recalls one little girl who initially didn’t join the program. “She eventually changed her mind, so I brought three plants in for her to choose from,” he says. “As she was watering her plant she started talking to me, and by the time she was done, she was grinning from ear to ear. Her mother started crying.”
Another one of Gloeb’s favorite My Little Green Friends moments involved a quiet little boy who watched intently as Gloeb talked about plants, explained how to care for them, and demonstrated how to pot a plant. “When he finished potting his plant, the boy turned to his mother and said, ‘Look, mom. My plant!’ His nurse’s jaw literally dropped, and I didn’t know why,” Gloeb says.
“I found out later that it was because the boy had been at the hospital for five days and those were the first words he spoke to anyone, including his parents.” It’s moments like these that remind Gloeb of why he does what he does, and why he intends to continue. “I said I would keep volunteering as long as I can get around, and God lets me do it.”