Remembering Marquette’s beloved icon

Anja mcbride, 13

Phil Niemisto was someone who had the very special ability to make everyone smile. I would be walking downtown with my mother and I would see him washing windows or tending to his garden in the pocket park, and I would say hello to him and we would stop and talk for a while. Eventually, my mom and I grew to know him so well that we would help him whenever he needed it. If we saw him struggling to carry groceries along the icy sidewalks downtown, we would stop and grab his bags and walk with him for a while. In the summer, we would see him tending to the pocket park garden multiple days a week with no one to help him, so each week we would see what days we were not busy and we would help him in the garden. We did this so much; it sort of became a tradition for my mom and me. We learned he loved his garden and we also learned he loved Christmas and the movie “Somewhere in Time.”

Whenever I saw Phil, I could tell he enjoyed our company. Eventually, if we were about to leave after a conversation with Phil, he would say, “Hang on, I have something for Anja.” Then he would pull out a $1 or $5 bill and hand it to me saying, “Keep it. It’s yours.”

I loved having him around in our community. Unfortunately, I was out of town during the celebration of Phil’s statue being unveiled. One day, at school, I was skimming through the Internet and I came to a news page. In big bold letters, stood a title I will never forget, “Phil Niemisto dies at the age of 88.” When I got home, I ran to my mom and said, “Mom, Phil died!”

We decided to go to Phil’s funeral. It was the first funeral I ever attended, and it was very sad, but I was happy that Phil had lived a wonderful life. I think he deserved the best, and he sure got it. His casket was beautiful and adorned with flowers and they served “Windex punch” in honor of Phil’s window washing career. “Windex punch” was a blueberry-flavored punch with blueberries in it. My eyes were filled with joyful, happy tears, as I mourned for his passing, but remembered those happy and unforgettable moments with him that I will treasure forever.

At my school, we are allowed to make projects on anything we find interesting or important. This was both! I did a presentation on Phil for the class, stating the biggest problem that had been swirling around in my head ever since I read that news article about his death: Who was going to take care of his garden?

This was not something that I could brush off of my shoulders very easily, so I am very grateful that the city took care of that. When Phil was alive, I would look at the garden with the weeds pulled out, bright green grass surrounding a variety of flowers, and I would think, “Wow! Phil really puts some dedication and hard work into this.” When I first saw the garden, shortly after Phil passed away, I was not happy with how the garden looked. In fact, this article was originally asking the city to make it better, and then they did. If there is any help needed with gardening at Phil’s garden, I am willing to help any time. I would like to thank everyone who helped redecorate Phil’s garden, especially Elizabeth and Elisa Howe, Dyana Nefe and Chris Collins, for their beautiful artwork of one of Phil’s favorite flowers — the geranium.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Anja McBride, 13, will be in the eighth grade at North Star Academy. She is an avid reader and has been writing for 8-18 Media for five years.