MAYVILLE - Alex Kochanowski, an 88-year-old Mayville resident, may not be able to get on his hands and knees when he gardens, but that doesn't stop him from producing a bountiful harvest.
Chances are that when the weather's nice, residents of the Portage Hill Apartments will catch Kochanowski and his dog Fritz working in the front lawn. But, it's not a gas-powered lawn mower that Kochanowski and Fritz ride around on, rather the duo work in the garden from the comfort of an electric-powered wheelchair.
According to Kochanowski, who is confined to a wheelchair and cannot walk much more than a few steps, the process of cultivating a garden is no easy task. But, his diligence was rewarded as this year's harvest yielded an 18-inch cucumber, tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, potatoes and more.
Alex Kochanowski, his dog Fritz and his 18-inch cucumber are pictured in front of his apartment in Mayville with Sue Woollett, Lakeshore Longterm Home Health Care social worker.
P-J photo by Dusten Rader
"It's a lot tougher than if I wasn't in it (a wheelchair), but you get used to it after a while - just don't give up," Kochanowski said. "It's all about the idea of growing it and having something that you did yourself."
Kochanowski attributes his skill as a gardener to his parents, who moved him from his hometown of Buffalo to a small farm in Arcade, before moving to a larger property in Sherman.
"When I was in Buffalo I got in with the wrong crowd and started getting in trouble," Kochanowski said. "So, my mom and dad got their heads together and got me out of the city. I thought I was going to hate it, but I loved it. I think it was the animals that I took to."
In addition to his skill as a gardener, Kochanowski is also an accomplished accordion and piano player. In his youth, he studied at Wurlitzer School of Music in Buffalo, and eventually landed himself gigs with a touring band by the name of Sunset Ramblers. Throughout his life, Kochanowski also played with several other groups, including: Georgia Ramblers, Westerneers, Jeannie Seely and Country Impressions.
"One Sunday morning my dad was walking into the barn, and I was in the house after all the chores were done, when a big hearse came in," Kochanowski said. "They asked my dad if there was a young fella by the name of Alex who plays accordion and piano? Before you knew it they had all their instruments in the house. They auditioned me right there, and I got the job. Word must have gotten around that there was a halfway decent boxman around - that's how it all started."
Sue Woollett, a Lakeshore Longterm Home Health Care social worker, spends time with Kochanowski to offer in-home support.
"It's amazing how he can take nothing and turn it into something," Woollett said.
Gardening and music aren't the only talents Kochanowski was gifted with, as he fancies himself a bit of an artist as well. Conveniently hidden within his pantry is a fully-stocked workstation, which he utilizes to create figure carvings on painted leather, animal sculptures made of excess materials that are mounted on a slice of Amish wood, hand-carved pipes and he even recently created a standing in-door plant holder from a former neighbor's tray table legs. And, after the harvest season, Kochanowski works on home brewed beer and brandy to keep himself warm through the winter.