Sunday, March 13, 2016

A Tribute to Andy Holewa

By Sage Passi
Andy Holewa was a dedicated Ramsey County Master Gardener whose love of kids
and gardening always shined in the watershed projects he supported.


I remember meeting Andy Holewa on one of my first rain garden projects at a home near Farnsworth Aerospace School on the east side of St. Paul. I had just put together a team of Master Gardeners who were fresh out of the first round of what would become a series of many rain garden trainings for both Master Gardeners and the public. I thought to myself,

“What’s a better way for all of us to learn how to design and construct rain gardens than to throw a group of dedicated volunteers together and let us have at it?” 

I was anxious to witness how this group of Master Gardeners would work together to solve the challenges we were facing at this site. It would be one of many opportunities to see Andy in action. He had some very pointed suggestions about how to figure out the inlet and outlet levels for this rain garden tucked into a relatively narrow space between two yards. To be honest, at this early stage of demonstration projects and without much experience, I figured out this was over my head. But Andy was confident and talked me through it. 

Andy supervises Battle Creek Middle School students checking the
basin level in a rain garden being built at a St. Paul home near the school.

It was the first in many instances when Andy would get me through a tough challenge. Only dedicated souls would stick to it through this rough and tumble time-intensive approach to involving youth in constructing a residential rain garden.

I won’t forget anytime soon one of those demanding projects that Andy helped us with when we had a couple weeks of almost non-stop rain while excavating a neighborhood rain garden near Battle Creek. Day after day, rotating middle school classes crossed the creek and came to dig out this rain garden in the mud during their forty-five minute class periods. Andy stuck to it and helped us through that arduous stage of the process. If something was left unfinished, it was often Andy and a few other dedicated Master Gardeners who hung in there with it and helped finish the job. 

Several years after the completetion of the rain garden that was constructed with Andy's help and other Ramsey County Master Gardener volunteers and students.


A couple of weeks ago it was a tremendous shock and a very sad day when I heard of Andy’s sudden death. Since then I have been pausing often to grieve, reminisce and get in touch with how much I have appreciated Andy’s presence and his contributions to the work in the community that we had been immersed in together over the years.

When I look back on my experiences working with Andy for the past seven years, I realize how incredibly helpful, dedicated and patient a person he was and how lucky I was to have had the opportunity to work with him and have his support for our watershed work.

When Andy arrived at the scene in his “souped up” red Firebird, I knew things would be “OK”. Then I’d take a deep breath and often follow his lead. If I made a suggestion he didn’t think made sense, he’d gently offer an alternative. Then we’d ruminate on that idea for a bit and then go with his idea. He was usually right.

Andy with kids at Farnsworth in December 2015 while seed stratifying.

Andy had a gentle way, a sense of the ironic, and his heart was always there. His problem-solving talents served us well, many, many times. He didn’t flinch when kids were tough to work with in the classroom or in the field. His patience saw him through most challenges. He had a genuine love and respect for young people. Andy was dedicated to engaging them in learning about gardening, habitat restoration, rain gardens and the environment.

Andy applied what he learned and passed his knowledge on to others, which got them interested too. He also practiced what he preached. I remember listening to him enthusiastically describe the rain garden he decided to put into his own yard.

Andy was very resourceful. Not that many years ago, when doing a renovation on a pretty distressed front school yard and we had planted all the woodland species we had purchased, Andy came through with additions from his own yard to enhance a couple sections of the hillside that needed some filling in and erosion control. That was not the only time he found ways to fill in a gap.


Andy plants hostas on the shady steep slope in front of Farnsworth
Aerospace’s upper campus in east St. Paul.

The last project I worked on with Andy was quintessential. Of course I had no idea it would be the last time we would have a chance to be together as a team. It was one of those projects that I knew called for Andy’s special skill sets and resourcefulness. It was fall, way past the tax season when Andy was always tied up helping other people. Most Master Gardeners had already put in their quota of hours and we were short of help. I knew the project was going to be a challenge,  but I also knew I could count on Andy. We had worked together on the front garden areas of L’Etoile du Nord years ago and had put in a hillside restoration site. Now that school had moved to another site and these gardens were overgrown and neglected.

On the day of the project, we had a team of eighty corporate volunteers coming to work on various projects on the site. The expectation was that, amongst many other goals, we'd be able to transform what had become an unsightly front entrance garden area into something civilized and attractive. 

“Your mission, Andy Holewa, should you choose to accept it: Transform this
overgrown, in-need-of-TLC front garden area in front of Parkway Montessori."


I was feeling rather panicked. I didn’t know what to expect from the volunteers and wasn’t sure our elaborate garden plan could even be implemented. When the Better Together lead organizer for the work day proposed a rather ambitious undertaking in the space, Andy was not daunted. He stepped into fine form. He had already done some of the homework. He had contacted another Master Gardener and collected plants from her yard to use as groundcover. Andy and Roxanne Eggen, another Master Gardener, had the cool heads and savvy to put these energetic, corporate volunteers to work installing pavers for a path that gave access to what would later become a Japanese garden in back and create some formality to the front area next to the rain garden we had built some years before. When that was completed, Andy helped other volunteers get the donated plants in the ground along the path. Mission accomplished!

Once again, Andy saved the day.

Andy puts “order” back into the front garden at Parkway Montessori.

He will be sorely missed. 

Thank you, Andy, for your awesome gifts. Our watershed has been truly blessed!



  1. Wow!! What a lovely tribute Sage.

  2. Nice work Sage for a special man.