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West Valley Focus

NORTH HILLS : War Veterans Decorated for Green Thumbs

July 23, 1993|JEFF SCHNAUFER

With Old Glory draped in the background, the small company of veterans waited patiently and proudly Thursday for their names to be called, a chance to be decorated for their efforts.

But unlike accolades for saving or taking lives in wartime, the former soldiers were thrown a victory party for creating life in the tiny garden behind the Sepulveda VA Medical Center.

"I like any kind of planting," said outpatient and veteran Karl Seddig, 57, of Mission Hills, who won second place in the San Fernando Valley Fair for his eggplant. "It keeps my hands busy."

About 20 patients and volunteers work almost daily on the garden, which also includes strawberries, celery, peppers and a variety of flowers. The best examples were picked for the fair, harvesting 10 awards for the soldiers-turned-gardeners.

Even more important than award-winning flora, hospital officials said, confidence grows in the garden.

"They're very proud," said Ruth Phillips, an occupational therapist who supervises the gardening program. "One of the goals is to increase self-esteem."

The fair also gave veterans a chance to showcase and win awards for other talents from needlework to oil painting. Some vets even surprised themselves, like Clarence Goldstein, who helped bake a batch of chocolate-chip cookies that took second prize.

"I've never baked anything before. It was kind of fun," said Goldstein, 72, of Los Angeles.

For at least one veteran, though, working together and winning was like old times.

"We were all trained to help each other," said Vernon Harsch, 71, of Panorama City, who helped tend corn from his wheelchair. "You just feel like doing something to help your buddies, that's all."

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