Standing on the dirt path, the wind blowing through her hair and the tall plants around her, Patsy Deerhake starts to list the people who helped her turn a giant puddle of water in Clintonville into a life-giving wetland.
A neighbor built the chimney swift tower to encourage birds to live there. Two others secured the grant funding that made building the tower possible. About 60 volunteers transplanted more than 3,800 wetland plants, which the local community works to maintain.
“I just always like to give credit where credit is due … and tell you the people who really helped with this,” Deerhake said.
But people who know Deerhake say she was the driving force behind the project in her Clintonville neighborhood.
She was the one who posted a photo three years ago on the Columbus Recreation and Parks Facebook page, showing standing water covering the ground where the now-demolished Sharon Elementary School once stood.
The photo led the Recreation and Parks Department to connect with the Blueprint Columbus Green Infrastructure Workforce Development Training Program and local volunteers from the neighborhood to build the wetland that now stands in a park.
“It was Patsy’s efforts, versus any sort of financial thing,” said Amanda Smeigh, 40, a Clintonville resident and a friend of Deerhake. “Her time and effort and love and, you know, just investment … was always there. It’s what I think made it happen.”
Smeigh said Deerhake, 67, is a good leader and always “invested in helping someone else and other things do well, because she wants to see them thrive.
“She’s an inspiration. … She’s a role model for me. I want to be like Patsy when I grow up … and be able to cheer people on the way she does.”
In addition to the wetland project, Smeigh said she has seen Deerhake devote her time to other initiatives, such as the Village in the Ville, a local organization of adults age 50 and older that helps with transportation, housekeeping and social needs.
Deerhake, a retired health coach, also mentored a teen through the Columbus Area Mentoring program once offered by the Family and Youth Law Center at Capital University’s law school.
Davion Elliott, 21, of the East Side, met Deerhake through that program in 2017 when he was aging out of the foster care program and looking to become more independent. She helped Elliott learn how to drive, make a budget and move into his own apartment.
Deerhake has also supported his interest in art over the years, even taking him on a trip to Pittsburgh for his 19th birthday so he could visit the Andy Warhol Museum.
“I was a pretty broken man when I met her; I pretty much stayed to myself,” Elliott said. “I don’t have much family to support me, but she is like a mother figure to me … and I am pretty much forever grateful for that.”
Deerhake and Elliott still try to connect every couple of weeks to catch up.
As she continues to maintain the wetland and work with the Village in the Ville program, Deerhake said she hopes to continue to organize events at the park.
“I try to look for things that other people aren’t doing, things that need to be done,” she said.