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101-year-old Northtowns woman has deep roots in garden club therapy

Angie Genovese was delighted one Tuesday earlier this month when a new 101-year-old friend showed up her nursing home in Getzville.

Olive Beutler showed up with fellow members of the Smallwood Garden Club to help Genovese and a couple dozen residents at Beechwood Continuing Care put together some flower arrangements to brighten their rooms.

The ladies of Beechwood made extras, too, so that those unable to enjoy the activity could get one as well.

“It brings back good memories and it’s something to do,” said Genovese, 90. “And it’s better than sitting in a room and looking at four walls.”

She and Beutler worked together on a piece before Genovese exclaimed, “Look at that, it’s gorgeous. I should get first prize. Put a ribbon on it.”

Beutler doesn’t hear as well as she used to. She tripped over a clothes basket and broke her pelvis and left hip almost two years ago, which forced her to move out of her Amherst home and into an apartment at Vinecroft Retirement Community in Clarence Center. She needs a walker to get around – and doesn’t like that very much. But at almost 102 years old, these obstacles don’t stop her from serving as a helper with the Smallwood Garden Therapy Program the second Tuesday of every month at Beechwood.

“At 97, she was still entering designs in competition and winning,” at the Erie County Fair and regional garden club competitions, said her friend and fellow club member Lee Schreiner.

Beutler joined the garden club nearly 50 years ago and chaired the garden therapy program for more than half that time.

“I love it,” she said. I’m thankful to get out. The girls are wonderful. I’d never get out if it wasn’t for them.”

The former Olivia Brueggeman grew up on Helen Place, off Lafayette Avenue, in the house where she was delivered in November 1914. She is the oldest of a dozen children. She and four others are still around.

Her dad was an engineer at Niagara Lithograph on Niagara Street.

“At Christmas time, the boss always gave everyone $10” during a company Christmas party, she recalled.

Beutler graduated from Bennett High School “sometime in the 30s,” worked at Wolworth’s as a teen and for General Electric during World War II. She worked longer stints at Shiller’s Deli in the Parkside neighborhood and the former Luther’s craft store, where she helped thousands of Western New Yorkers with flower arrangements over more than three decades.

She remembers taking a trolley car to Loblaw’s and A&P to shop. Skating at Scott’s Roller Rink on Main Street (“You could skate all night for a quarter”). Taking the Canadiana to Crystal Beach to dance, swim and enjoy the amusement rides.

“People don’t do that anymore,” Beutler said. “They all sit in a bar now.”

She was married 59 years to Richard Beutler, who worked in the office at Buffalo Forge and died from heart trouble in 1991.

At 100, she was still doing 25 sit-ups, toe touches and bicycles a day,” said fellow garden club member Carolyn Sperl.

“I got to five and thought I was going to die,” said Schreiner.

The club has 43 members. The youngest is in her 30s. Beutler is oldest.

Schreiner said Beutler has been a force in the garden therapy program for a generation, visiting nursing homes in some of Buffalo’s poorest neighborhoods as well as the suburbs.

“No one ever took the time to show them flower design and craft work,” Schreiner said. “Olive knew they were not at her level but she was so loving to them. Her feeling is that all these people had homes and lives, and did things, and now their lives are restricted. Doing programs like this, they’re creating something again.””

Beutler continues to raise about $1,500 to $1,800 year making silk arrangements. She gives the money to cat charities.

“I’ve got a cat in my apartment, Pepper,” she said. “I don’t know what I’d do without him."

Garden club volunteers and work with real plants, herbs and flowers in the garden therapy program. This month, they included Black-eyed Susans, mums, mint, daisies, pansies, hydrangeas, coneflower, knapweed, posejefka (“Little Tree of God”) from Poland, small lavender and wet oasis.

Their fragrances stimulate memories.

“When they start working,” Schreiner said of the Beechwood residents, “suddenly they start talking. It brings them alive. They have people who aren’t a nurse or an aide or a doctor paying attention to them, working with them.”

What secrets do Beutler and Genovese have about living a long life?

“I really couldn’t tell you,” Genovese said. “It surprises me that I’ve lived to this age. Communion, church always.”

“I believe in exercise and I love volunteer work,” Beutler said. “I never smoked. I like a martini every now and then. I’ve promised them over at the apartments when I’m able to walk without this walker, we’ll make Manhattans. I’ve always been a coffee drinker, strong coffee, four cups a day. Black. I’m not Italian but I like Italian food."

Helping others as part of the garden therapy program helps, too.

“Overall it’s not major,” Schreiner said, “but every drop of kindness is so desperately needed these days.”


Twitter: @BNrefresh, @ScottBScanlon

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