SHOVEL IN HAND
Marshall Libicz helps keep the walks shovelled and the gardens flourishing in Calgary’s Bidgeland-Riverside. Seniors gain from his kindness and energy, and so does everyone else in the neighbourhood. Mr. Libicz is, by the way, in his mid-80s.
Editors’ Note: When the author first proposed this story as an idea for Branching Out, he believed his helpful neighbour was a retired professional engineer. It turns out Marshall Libicz has a technical background and did take engineering at the University of Alberta. But he isn’t an APEGGA member.
Still, Mike Ricketts, P.Eng., said the story was such a great example of community spirit, The PEGG should tell it anyway. We agreed.
We can even justify it. Branching Out is usually about the impression branches make on their larger community. This time the reverse is true.
The profile tells how one snow-shovelling senior made an impression on a branch member — and how, as a result, the branch member became more involved in his neighbourhood.
We think it speaks to the value of giving back, no matter who you are, and how members can and should forge strong bonds beyond the professions..
BY MIKE RICKETTS, P.ENG.
APEGGA Life Member
& Calgary Branch
On any given day in Bridgeland-Riverside, you’re likely to see Marshall Libicz hard at work. Summer or winter, it doesn’t matter.
Bridgeland-Riverside is one of Calgary’s oldest communities. Marsh, as we call him, moved here when he was about 10. He’s still in the same home. It is only after you’re here for a while that you start to realize that you see him everywhere. This is Marsh’s territory.
After a new snow, you’ll see Marsh shoveling the sidewalks two blocks away from his home. It’s an area where folks who can’t shovel their own walks reside. Yes, Marsh really is the original Snow Angel in my neighbourhood. He has been taking care of seniors here for years.
Oh, and check out his snow shovel. It’s the shaft of an old wooden goalie stick, a Hespeler, with a rectangle of plywood screwed to the bottom for a blade. Who cares if it isn’t as efficient as its modern brethren — the loads are lighter and the job is always immaculate.
I first became aware of the impact Marsh has on the neighbourhood when I discovered that my granddaughter, who’s being raised as a vegetarian, was receiving a steady stream of fresh vegetables picked from the gardens directly across the street from the condo where she lived.
These vegetables were gifts. Marsh and the other gardeners were adamant that they did not want anything in return. Payment was out of the question and it was only after repeated offers that Marsh even allowed me to reciprocate with some physical labour. Rather hesitantly, Marsh admitted that there just might be the odd chore where an extra pair of hands would be useful.
And so began my apprenticeship.
After a couple of growing seasons proving I could be relied upon to complete the jobs I started, Marsh decided he should give me my own plot in his garden. As a life member of APEGGA, I was totally flattered when he pointed out it was probably a good time to get some “young blood” into the gardens.
I guess I should mention Marsh is in his mid-eighties.
I soon realized that Marsh did not really need me in the garden. My role was more about convincing his wife, Anne, that he was trying to slow down. Coincidently — or perhaps by design — I also give him more time to tend the several backyard gardens he maintains for the widows of the neighbourhood.
One day as we were gardening, I told Marsh I was going to a book sale. He mentioned that if I happened to see any technical books, perhaps I could let him know about them. Another day, Marsh told me he had been a radio technician in the Royal Canadian Air Force during the war. I told him I too had spent time in the air force as an aerospace engineer.
My confession brought on questions covering all branches of mathematics and the sciences. What-ifs, how-tos — questions that were always insightful and penetrating, questions I frequently couldn’t answer. Problems I probably could not have solved when I was fresh out of university.
Digging deeper, I found out that at the war’s end Marsh studied engineering at the University of Alberta. He then worked in seismic all over Western Canada. Well, that explained the technical third degree.
It also explained how the gardens had evolved over the years. Water was supplied by a Rube Goldberg-like series of rain pipes tying adjacent houses to scrounged 45-gallon drums. Fences and gates were similarly from the yards of houses torn down over the years to make way for urban sprawl. Raspberry bushes and Nanking cherry trees had been migrated here from elsewhere.
All in all, a typical engineering approach to land use.
Last year, the gardens — which Marsh worked in as a youngster and which fed his family on and off from the 1930s onward — were officially designated an historic site. They became Calgary’s newest park.
With the attendant publicity, Marsh became a media sensation. He has been nationally featured in radio, television and newspaper stories. He has been interviewed for and starred in half a dozen local magazines and community newsletter features.
Last year, the Bridgeland-Riverside Community Garden received a Calgary Horticultural Society Centennial Award for preserving the last three of the sites set aside in 1922 for the Vacant Lots Gardening Club. These sites once numbered 3,000.
Marshall was further recognized at the Calgary Heritage Authority Lion Awards ceremony for his role in the preservation and protection of Calgary’s historic resources for the enjoyment of all Calgarians and future generations.
Marsh’s famous garden tours have turned him into an instantly recognized, surrogate grandfather to over 540 young students at Langevin Science School. My biggest fear is that someone will suggest Marsh be bronzed and used as the official Snow Angel statue.
The lesson of this story is that, if you want to stay young, emulate Marshall Libicz: be physically active, get involved in your community, and use your brain — question everything.