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Random Acts of Flowers helps area couple sprout roots

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Random Acts of Flowers: www.randomactsofflowers.org.

Friday, August 30, 2013 - 12:01 am

It's not often that retirees feel like rock stars.

But Doug and Martha Rodenbeck felt like celebrities while volunteering to pass out information for the nonprofit organization Random Acts of Flowers at a women's expo last winter in Knoxville, Tenn.

The lifelong northeast Indiana residents said just about everybody who saw them stopped to ask for information about how to donate flowers to the organization, which recycles them into bouquets for hospital and nursing home patients who don't receive many visitors or flowers.

“We thought someone in Fort Wayne may want to start one,” Doug said.

Random Acts of Flowers was created in July 2008 in Knoxville, it says on the organization's website, www.randomactsofflowers.org.

The idea for the organization came to founder Larsen Jay while he was hospitalized after falling 1 1/2 stories when the ladder collapsed as he repaired the roof on his warehouse.

He received a lot of visitors and flowers, which helped boost his spirits, the website said. But when he was well enough to venture out of his hospital room, he discovered many other patients didn't get visitors or flowers.

He shared some of his flowers with other patients, and the concept for Random Acts of Flowers was born.

In addition to the Random Acts of Flowers branch in Knoxville, a branch is expected to open this fall in Pinellas County, Fla., which is the Tampa-St. Petersburg area. Other cities being considered for branches include Indianapolis; Greeneville in northeast Tennessee; Miami; and Salt Lake City.

The Rodenbecks, who spent last winter in Knoxville to be closer to family, heard about Random Acts of Flowers from their daughter-in-law, Susan Rodenbeck of Knoxville.

“We were looking for something to do together,” Martha, 66, said, adding that, when they arrived, they didn't know anyone there except family members.

The Rodenbecks also enjoy volunteering.

Both are longtime members and past presidents of the Anthony Wayne Lions Club in Fort Wayne. Doug, 69, helped start the Lions' Leo Club youth program in Indiana and served on Lions Clubs international's Leo Club Advisory Panel.

Doug also has been a volunteer firefighter for about 40 years. He spent most of those years with the Washington Township Volunteer Fire Department, where he became known as “Fireman Doug” to thousands of children to whom he gave fire-safety presentations.

In Knoxville, the Rodenbecks immediately felt at home with Random Acts of Flowers and its other volunteers.

“It is a very cordial group,” Doug said. He and Martha already are looking forward to returning there in mid-September.

The Knoxville branch currently has about 150 volunteers, with about 70 of them volunteering regularly, a staff member said. With their help, the branch creates and delivers 800 to 1,000 flower bouquets a month.

The Rodenbecks volunteer on the “deconstruction” crew, working about three three-hour shifts a week.

Families donate flower arrangements from weddings and funerals, and donations of arrangements and flowers also come from corporate events, churches, synagogues, florists and grocers, Martha said. Volunteers — usually men — pick up the donated flowers in a truck nicknamed “Flora,” Doug said.

Working in a small room in an old warehouse, the Rodenbecks and other members of the deconstruction crew take apart the donated arrangements. They sort out flowers that have started to fade or wilt so they can be turned into mulch. They group good flowers by type and color and place them in water.

Volunteer floral arrangers then use the saved flowers to create new bouquets, which are placed in donated or recycled vases. Those then are delivered to patients at hospitals, nursing homes and rehabilitation centers.

“Nurses select who gets them,” Doug said, because they know who hasn't been receiving visitors or flowers.

The deliveries don't seem to have hurt sales at florists in Knoxville, he said.

“We don't cut into their business because our flowers go to people who would not get flowers,” he explained.

The Rodenbecks have found the experience very rewarding.

Not only have they made a lot of new friends.

“I know somebody else is going to get a lot of enjoyment out of what we are doing,” Martha said. “I may never see those people, but I know somebody's going to enjoy them.”