Unwilling to sit idle after retiring from Republic Steel, Larry Brake found a second career. In his back yard.
“I got bored one day and got a shovel out and started digging. Didn’t have a plan. Just made it up as I went along. Didn’t know it was going to be a never-ending job,” he said, chuckling.
What started out as a small hand-dug hole eventually became a stunning three-tier series of ponds and waterfalls surrounded by a lush perennial garden and edged by a pebbled walking path.
The result was so impressive that photos from the pond were featured in the brochures for a Stark County Waterfall and Pond Tour.
“I signed him up to be on the tour, which benefited the Humane Society,“ admitted daughter Shawni Brake-Mahaffey. “The next year they put his pond in the advertisement and on the poster.”
Larry and his wife, Suzi, live in a modest Plain Township home, built into a hill. Signs of Brake’s DIY-personality are visible everywhere, from the deck outside to the wall of cabinets inside.
“I wasn’t happy unless I was knocking out a wall or something,” he said.
The picturesque back yard is frequented by herds of deer, turkeys, foxes and other wildlife. A sloping lot allowed him to create the spilling waterfalls.
While pond construction was in progress, Brake took some ribbing from the family.
“We joked he was out there digging his own grave,” Mahaffey said. “He was too cheap to buy rocks so he made the family go out to get rocks where they were building new neighborhoods. It was a family joke that if we saw a rock on the side of the road we’d have to stop and load up.”
Since the ponds were created without blueprints or plans, were mistakes made along the way?
“No boo-boos, but it was a lot more work than I expected,” Brake said. “The dumbest thing I did was pay $2 each for bullfrog tadpoles. As soon as they grew up they hopped out and left! Went down to the creek.”
Now, the lowest pool is home to a dozen bright orange Comet-tailed Goldfish.
Advice to homeowners who want to put in a pond?
“Well, you better have a lot of time — there is a bit of maintenance,” Brake said. “But it is fun.”
Brake is quietly proud of his accomplishment, but says he’s more proud of what his granddaughter, Sage Recco, wrote about the pond. Here’s is an excerpt from her 6th grade report:
“An important lesson I learned from my grandpa is that you should always follow your dreams. After he finished his pond he became bored again. So I bet you right now he’s thinking of starting on a new project.”
Grandpa? Any plans?
“Well, I wish I’d put a little railroad out there, with trestles across,” Brake said. “If I added anything, I’d like to do that.”