‘Phil-’anthropy and flowers

Lauren Lee

Every morning around 8:30 a.m. an 86-year-old man wearing suspenders, dress pants and a button-down shirt will be spotted downtown Marquette washing windows of businesses or tending to tulips.

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Phil Niemisto has been serving Marquette since the 1970s planting and tending to gardens around the community.

Niemisto said his current garden is called the pocket garden right outside the Wild Rover on West Washington Street.

“I’ve been planting flowers all over this town,” Niemisto said. “I used to plant flowers at the library, the First America Bank, flowers on Third Street Bank— I’ve just kind of made a circle. I’ve been growing the pocket garden for about 10 years.”

At 12 years old, Niemisto planted his first flower garden on a farm, which was supposed to be vegetables.

He started the pocket garden from scratch, even planting all the shrubs.

Money for the garden is taken out of Niemisto’ own pocket. At Book World on West Washington Street is a donation can for community members to contribute to the tulips.

Book World employee Nina Purtee said the workers know they will see him everyday.

“He’s a legend here,” Purtee said. “It’s just one of those things he takes his time to do, all that stuff. It’s part of his job that he doesn’t get paid for. It’s out of his pocket.”

The gardener said he uses tulips because they can survive Marquette temperatures and stand tall for everyone to see.

“I need warm weather for my garden to grow and we need more flowers all around,” Niemisto said.

Forsberg Flowers worker LouAnn Balding said she’s known Niemous for 25 years.

“It’s a catalyst in our community,” Balding said. “He just goes out there with no reward other than it looks good. He doesn’t make money off of this. He just does it because he’s part of Marquette.”

The garden isn’t the only thing Niemisto takes care of alone. His window washing business is a one-man operation as well, and he also takes time out of his busy day to volunteer at the Senior Center.Niemous said he turned the right corner and has made a good living from it.

“It was nearly an accident,” Niemisto said. “I wasn’t even thinking of windows. I was working at the library part-time so I came downtown and lined up a bunch of snow plowing jobs and there wasn’t any snow. So I started washing the windows and now I wash about 80 place’s windows. I’ve been doing it for about 30 years because nobody came in and took my place.”

Niemisto lived in Marquette in 1950 without a job when he convinced his roommate to head down to Flint, Mich.

The pair packed up in 20 below weather, making it downstate by thumb hitchhiking three different rides.

While downstate, Niemisto, Flint-raised, made a living for 20 years working at a hospital.

“Figured I’d had enough and wanted to get away so I went back to the U.P.,” Niemisto said.

Since returning, Niemisto has received over 10 awards, including the citizens award, and all were awarded to him in the ‘90s, Niemisto said.

Now every year there is a Phil Niemisto award given out to a helpful community member.

Niemisto said he enjoys giving speeches at various schools in Marquette, and the awards aren’t what matters.

“It’s not about all that stuff,” Niemisto said. “It’s about getting into something you enjoy and like doing. I’m actually doing all the things I like—that’s what makes you live longer. If you have to do something, make sure you like it, then you won’t mind getting up every day and going out.”