Refuge From War Becomes Refuge For All

I started my own Creating Legacy journey when, as a nurse and attorney practicing health care law, studying to become a professional coach, and developing my company Thrive!!, I began some of the hardest work I’d ever done. I worked with my sister, also a high achiever and busy physician and mother of three, to help our parents begin their departure from this earth.

The Garlo Girls: first generation daughters of Polish and Lithuanian immigrant physicians, we were no strangers to valuing hard work and to the ideas of accomplishment, escaping adversity to create a better life, and passing along something meaningful to future generations. How to truly honor what we were taught and the gifts we had received from them — and deal with the myriad of issues including aging, illness, treatment and end of life decisions, navigating the healthcare systems, understanding and implementing an estate plan , and on and on — was a bigger job that we anticipated. Especially while trying to navigate our own careers and participate in our own families and communities.

Coming from little to nothing, our parents escaped Communist and Nazi occupations and arrived in the U.S. in 1948 with a few suitcases and our brother, a four year old. They were unsure and fearful, though elated by the opportunity this move provided, and that their children would not have to go through the adversity they had experienced. Through work, study, saving and investment, the family was able to acquire some 300 acres of farmland over a 30 year period. As our father’s last illness took him away from being able to tend the land, his refuge from the possibility of another war, we were faced with the question of what to do with this property. More importantly, we wanted to figure out how to keep the meaning of that land alive.

As busy professionals ourselves and living far away from the family farm, figuring out what to do involved a maze of new issues, advisors, land use and tax matters and paperwork. I often thought how nice it would be to have one advisor or set of resources that could have helped us through the myriad of family, property, financial, health care, legal and personal life, not to mention emotional and other issues and decisions …

“The farm” had always been a refuge of sorts, where no hunting was permitted to allow all manner of land and water flora and fauna to prosper there. While we focused on how to keep that meaning and purposes alive, as serendipity would have it we discovered the possibility of donating the land to create the county’s first park. In keeping with the spirit of the place, we negotiated, thoughtfully crafted agreements and created the Garlo Heritage Nature Preserve. Portions were subsequently named and dedicated by the park commissioners to all the family members who had been involved. See www.senecacounty.com/parks/Garlo.htm.

I had no idea how important that decision would be or how valuable, not only to us as we struggled to determine just how to properly manage this large piece of property, but also to scores of people who came after us. Since its formation in 1999, the county park commissioners have done a superb job of honoring the family’s values for the property, and have built it into a natural resource that people in the surrounding area use and likewise honor. Scout troops learn camping skills, build accessible trails and plant trees. School groups learn about nature first-hand. Volunteer groups maintain the nature preserve. Horse-lovers ride the equestrian trails. Handicap-accessible boardwalks and strategically placed benches allow the elderly and others whom might not get there commune with the peace and quiet of nature in the wooded countryside. All enjoy their year-round outdoor experiences there. The most recent addition has been a Montessori nature day pre-school program conducted at the preserve.

All these results occurred because of the efforts of others to whom this valuable land resource has been passed on. What started as an idea, became a set of activities coupled with a carefully structured contribution and estate plan, and resulted in a sustainable operation. Without fully realizing what we were doing at the time, the farm has become a living legacy that we can enjoy and feel good about, knowing that others can also enjoy this resource for generations.

The “Garlo Girls” and next generation of family continue to visit the nature preserve and marvel at the developments there. We also continue to be deeply moved at the seemingly magical evolution of a dream in ways that honor our family’s love of nature and preservation and continues to pleasantly surprise.

Written by: Dolly M. Garlo, RN, JD, PCC

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