Always in bloom

“Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower,” French existentialist Albert Camus observed.

The White Plains Beautification Foundation must share that sentiment for it holds its annual gala in October, perhaps the best month in New York’s best season.

“We thought about having it in the spring, but it seems as if there are so many things going on then,” says Barbara Vrooman, a past president of the foundation and chairman of its Adopt-A-Park program, which helps underwrite the gorgeous displays that residents and visitors experience citywide in spring, summer and fall.

Vrooman, along with organization founder and first president Brian Wallach, former president Beth Wallach (Brian’s wife) and late board member Robert Pollack, will be honored Oct. 8 at the 50th anniversary gala, which returns to its old haunt, the historic C.V. Rich Mansion, home of The Woman’s Club of White Plains. (The gala had been held at Westchester Hills Golf Club in recent years.)

In a sense, the October event — which will feature a cocktail reception, dinner, live music, a raffle and a silent auction — is a metaphor for the foundation itself, which always seems to be in bloom. Fifty years ago, insurance executive Brian Wallach — a well-known fixture in White Plains as founder of the Brian Wallach Agency and a sightless avocational swimmer at the YMCA — got together with several residents and set about beautifying a city that had a treeless main thoroughfare, Mamaroneck Avenue. They knocked on doors and took to the phones to raise $2,000. They planted, weeded, mulched and watered. Today more than 60 gardens and parklets grace the city, thanks to the foundation, which now hires three local landscape companies to do the planting and maintenance — Amodio’s Garden Center, Nursery & Flower Shop, Gedney Farms Nursery and Ridgeway Garden Center, which were honored at last year’s gala. The foundation raises $130,000 for the landscaping mainly through Adopt-A-Park and its gala, with the landscaping companies providing a total of $75,000 in services.

“We receive no government funding,” says Vrooman, a distinctive presence at foundation events in her floral picture hats. “It’s all through the goodness of the hearts of individuals, businesses and corporations.”

The seeds for Adopt-A-Park, which began in 1986, were planted two years earlier with the dedication of the graceful Michaelian Gazebo — designed by architect Pollack — in Tibbits Park. The foundation raised $20,000 for the gazebo and decided to keep the fundraising ball rolling.

It is among the city treasures for which the foundation is responsible. They include the Triantafillu Fountain, also in Tibbits Park; some 200 Kwansan cherry trees that spark the Cherry Blossom Festival, held in Turnure Park; Bradford pear trees; three clock towers; and the 18-by-9-by-9-foot Basket created by Rudy Nabel of the now-defunct Nabel’s Nurseries and funded by Barbara and Richard Dannenberg.

“When you think of all that’s been accomplished in 50 years,” Vrooman marvels, “and all because of a great group of civic-minded people.”

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