The 25-year-old thought he had it made, living in a walk-up loft apartment in the Village of East Davenport. "It's perfect, really, because you have night life of bars and restaurants and day life of shops and my job," Kurt Pacha said. "The river's right here, and the bike path and a convenience store."
But something was missing.
Growing up at his parents' house in Davenport, Pacha got used to helping with the chores, such as mowing the lawn. He found that he enjoyed yard work and missed having outdoor space when he moved into an apartment above Edward Jones (financial advisers) near the intersection of Mound and 11th streets.
He had noticed the little "pocket park" at the corner of Mound and 11th, and one July day, he started pulling weeds.
"It just grew from there," he said. "I just started working at it. Everything in the park is very low-budget or free. For instance, a lady from my church split some of her flowers to plant. Most of the flowers will look much better next year
"It'll be exciting next year, when I can start working on it right away in the spring. This year, I started sort of in the middle of the season."
In just more than a month, Pacha's efforts have had considerable impact. And people have noticed, including the park's owner.
Dorothy Gildea has owned the park since her husband, Paul Cunnick, bought it as an anniversary gift in 1976. Both doctors, the couple said the place reminded them of pocket parks they enjoyed on travels to Denmark. They cared for it for years, lovingly weeding it each season and planting plenty of trees, which now shade the entire 50- by 50-foot space.
A hand-painted sign just outside the gate declares: "Gildea's Pocket Park."
Gildea now is 89, and Cunnick passed away in 2009. It was important to Pacha that Gildea approve of his efforts, so he was delighted when a friend brought her to Lagomarcino's, where he has worked for about 10 years, and she gave her blessing.
Her son, Marcus Cunnick, said he loves to see the old park getting some use. It has been too many years, he said, since his parents were able to care for it the way they once did.
"I think it's great," Cunnick said. "It's wonderful. I mean, I think it's cool as heck — the funky flowers, the cool rocks. I am just thrilled."
Pacha said he is getting a big kick out of the reactions to what seemed like a simple gesture, cleaning up a bit of outdoor space and throwing in a splash of color.
"With each change that's made, you see more and more heads turn," he said. "People have been very respectful. Nothing's been taken, yet nothing is chained down. I was picking up a lot of cigarette butts, but I added a couple of ashtrays, and I'm not having that problem anymore. People tell me it looks great. Somebody gave me 20 bucks the other day, so I went and got a few more flowers."
He said he gets his creative flare from both of his parents, including his dad, who made the metal sculptures in the park. When Pacha looked over the park one day and decided it was too drab, he bought a bag of old belts at a thrift store and fastened them to one of the benches to add color. To spare himself from dragging water down from his apartment for the flowers each day, he placed a bucket under a nearby air conditioner to collect the condensation.
Next, he said, he is borrowing a friend's generator and his dad's welder to repair the gates on the wrought-iron fence the Gildea-Cunnicks added years ago.
"It's funny, because I've known about this park for my whole life," Pacha said. "I was in Junior Theatre, and we used to do the live nativity here. I played Joseph one year. Another year, I played Angel Gabriel."