MARINETTE — Holding onto roots in faith, family and flowers, Bill Chenier sets aside his garden tools outside of the Holy Family parish center for a short visit. “I like to choose plants for around the church requiring little to no maintenance,” he said. “That’s the key to having a successful community garden.”
To simplify, flowers are selected that don’t require removing the seed head after blooming.
When he and his wife, Heidi (Bartoszek), moved to Marinette and purchased a nursery business in 2006, they saw an opportunity to donate plants to enhance the parish center. While the parish center plantings are a donation from the Chenier Garden Center, those around the church are part of a business transaction.
Viewing the begonias, marigold and coleus that welcome visitors to the parish center, Fr. Joseph Dorner noted, “Bill does a great job.” Humbly, Chenier replied, “I just like to have fun with it.”
“He runs a fine business and has been very generous to our parish,” Fr. Dorner added.
Most plants require some maintenance, especially during drought years. With the rain, it doesn’t take as much work for Chenier and the parish volunteers. He fertilizes about once a month. “Plants are like people, we like to eat,” he said.
Chenier believes the nursery business provides a good learning experience for his growing family. After all, as a youngster growing up in Flat Rock, Mich., his parents, Harold and Sharon, provided a similar background for him, his four older brothers and younger sister.
It was at Chenier’s Greenhouse of Gladstone, Mich., where as a child his first task was to fill flower pots with soil. Watering was next. “It’s kind of an acquired skill. Plants need water when they need it. It’s not a function of time. It’s when they need it,” he said.
His parents provided an upbringing not only rooted in the soil, but also in faith, something important for both Chenier and his wife. With three daughters and a son — Mariah, 13, Kailyn, 12, Hannah, 10, and Harrison, 8 — the family works closely together.
“My wife had a full-time job raising the young kids,” he said. As the garden center grew, she and the kids have become more involved.
With tasks like watering, bookwork and restocking, time is precious. While he is arranging baskets, she takes care of other plants. “We work great as a team. It’s always about teamwork. I could never do it alone,” he said.
During the busy season, they’re joined with three or four extra people to help with sales. One day when they were short-handed in sales, Chenier’s oldest daughter grabbed the register “and ran it for five hours straight.”
Two years ago in January, the family faced a life-changing event. During brain surgery to correct an epilepsy condition, their son, Harrison, had a stroke, paralyzing the left side of his body.
Before heading to Minnesota for surgery, Chenier’s cousin, Fr. Michael Chenier, associate pastor at Holy Spirit Parish in nearby Menominee, Mich., called the whole family together for a special Mass. “It was just a beautiful thing,” he said.
Faced with this crisis, the family felt the power of prayers. Fr. Dorner called to assure them of the parish’s prayers. Prayer chains throughout the community were lifting their son, the medical teams, and the entire family in reverent petition.
“You’re just numb,” Chenier said. “You’re making decisions which will basically guide this little child through life. And you know there’s a greater power up there steering us. We knew prayer was holding us up. It was amazing.”
Following the stroke, Harrison went through several weeks of therapy. Chenier stayed with his wife and son in Minnesota as long as he could. Then he returned to Marinette to care for his three daughters and to prepare the garden center for spring opening.
“The community was awesome. They spoiled us,” Chenier said. With neighbors, family and friends each taking a hand in helping the family where needed, Chenier said, “it was like an orchestra.”
Harrison now has been seizure free for over a year. The effects of the stroke are minimal and he even plays soccer. “He’s a miracle on wheels,” Chenier said with a smile.
In addition to contributing to the parish center’s garden, Chenier is also treasurer for his son’s Cub Scout Pack 4168 in Marinette. Each year, he conducts a tree sell with proceeds going to the Cub Scouts.
Chenier and his wife enjoy attending and supporting their children in faith, school and sporting events. Often tending plants with a spring in his step and a song in his heart, Chenier treasures the blessings of family, friends and community.
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Your Catholic Neighbor
Name: Bill Chenier
Parish: Holy Family, Marinette
Favorite saint: Anthony of Padua
Words to live by: “Keep the faith.”