Manuel Ramirez Volez is using his life-long interest in gardening to make the days a little brighter for himself as well as other elders and staff at SunPorch of Dodge City, 501 W. Beeson Rd.

Volez and his wife, Maria Zapata, have lived at the long-term-care residence for about 18 months.

“Planting flowers and growing vegetables is something I have done for a very long time,” Manuel said. “I like to be busy and this makes me happy. It gets me involved with other people to do something we all enjoy.

“In addition,” he continued, “the vegetable produce gives me something I can share with my friends and family. We all like the fresh veggies.”

Maria, 77, noted that her 80-year-old husband has “always grown flowers and vegetables – even if he had to grow them in the house. He attended an agricultural school in Mexico, giving him the knowledge to grow a better garden and beautiful flowerbeds.”

Manuel and Maria moved to the United States in 1960, coming from Durango, Mexico.

Debbie Allen, SunPorch director of marketing, said Manuel’s produce includes tomatoes, peppers, jalapenos, cantaloupe and watermelon.
“He even has a few miniature pumpkins this year and wants to host a pick-your-own pumpkin event this fall,” Allen said. “Manuel also hopes to make some homemade salsa. And, by the way, his flowers are beautiful.”

He started seeding in March, with the help of the SunPorch Garden Club, under the direction of Activities Director Gina Salmans. The club also helped with transplanting after the weather warmed up.

“We appreciate Manuel’s leadership, which has given other elders here the incentive to get outside and be even more active,” Allen said. “Elders who pursue their personal interests have more satisfying lives. This promotes interaction with others and stimulates mind and body; it is great for physical and emotional health.

“There is nothing quite like having a purpose in life,” she added. “Everyone at SunPorch is grateful to Manuel.”

Because of the garden’s popularity last year, SunPorch Administrator Ryan Salinas arranged to transform an old rose bed into additional space for all the veggies.

“This just further illustrates that our garden is a real team effort, with Manuel as our guide,” Allen commented.

The garden, however, is not Manuel’s only interest. He and Maria enjoy morning coffee and doughnuts, devotions, Bingo and special activities. Manuel also likes to make bracelets and necklaces, many of which he gives to Maria.

“Each activity fulfills the SunPorch philosophy of providing opportunities to socialize,” Allen said. “We want to help all our elders grow emotionally and spiritually, and continue to find meaning and purpose in everyday living.”

Manuel was a certified brake specialist for semi-trucks and buses in Wichita from 1962-2012. He worked in a bank while in Mexico.

He and Maria have seven children; 32 grandchildren; 30 great-grandchildren; and five great-great grandchildren. One daughter works in the SunPorch kitchen.

“Many family members have asked the couple to move in with them but Manuel and Maria say they are very happy at SunPorch and want to stay,” Allen said.