"I was hired by a
wonderful Polish nun - Sister Irene Sosnowski. She
was a survivor, a refugee from WWII concentration camps, a displaced
who made her way to America. I admired this woman so much. She was put
in charge of the campus grounds. She knew nothing about
so when we started here she said, 'I’m going to allow you X amount of
dollars. Go buy thirty trees and put them in.' And that is just
The College of New Rochelle
Lenny, what was
your first job?
I came in 1955
to do one job on the south end of the main campus. I had just gotten
out of the U.S. Army, having served in Korea and been injured in
combat, and I had also just gotten married. My brother-in-law, John,
said to me, why don’t you give me a hand over at the College until you
find something to do? So we walked over to campus and I worked with the
trees you can see today: the big, beautiful copper beech next to the
tennis courts, that ancient ginkgo, all those locusts. I am very happy
to see the new Wellness Center will be built among them.
My first creation was a rose garden for the Ursulines so
they would have a peaceful place to visit after dinner, a place where
they might say their evening prayers. I planted the rose garden between
the two former buildings, Newman and Notre Dame. At the time we had 60
different climbing roses, a gravel path, and a small grotto with a
beautiful statue of the Virgin Mary. I ended up spending twenty-two
years working on the south end of campus, and am now coming into my
thirtieth year on the north end of campus.
Who hired you full-time?
I was hired by a wonderful
Polish nun---- Sister Irene Sosnowski. She was a survivor, a refugee
from WWII concentration camps, a displaced person who made her way to
America. I admired this woman so much. She was put in charge of the
campus grounds. She knew nothing about landscaping, so when we
started here she said, "I’m going to allow you X amount of dollars. Go
buy thirty trees and put them in." And that is just what I did.
How did you become involved in working on the north end of our campus?
When Sister Dorothy Ann
became President of the College, she said, "I would like to have that
young man come over to this side of the campus." At the time the ground
around the castle was a disaster, mud piled everywhere, very few trees,
no shrubs. And at the time, I was a young man. We were a perfect fit.
To get rid of the mud, I put
in blacktop walks. I got a lot of heat for doing that, but when the
faculty and students saw that there was no more mud walks they decided
that it wasn’t such a bad idea.
And then I started planting
Dr. Sweeny has an avid
interest in the grounds. And he paid me
probably the highest compliment last year by saying, "You made my
campus all the years that you have been here. You made CNR.”
from him, that’s great praise. He’s knowledgeable, and he has taken a
special interest in what we have tried to achieve.
What was the first tree
you planted at the College?
That would be the Metasequoia glyptostroboides, or
dawn redwood. I planted it on Elm Street in front of the Student
Center. It is still there today. That’s my first born, so to speak.
How many different species
of trees have you planted over the years?
Oh, perhaps as many as fifty.
For example, by Holy Family Chapel, there is a lagerstroemia. The common name is
crape-myrtle. We have a tree from northern China, Japanese lace
cap hydrangeas, and royal purple rhododendrons. Queen Victoria first
propagated the royal purple for her garden in Ireland, and now we have
them on our campus. And on both ends of campus, north and south, I use
annuals, shrubs, and trees that are not indigenous to our region of the
world, but I have been able to make them grow. I once heard a visitor
declare that this campus was ‘New York’s Hidden Treasure’ and I believe
Who in the history of the College took a particular interest in
the grounds of the campus?
I’d have to go back to Sister
Dorothy Ann maybe 30-plus years ago. Her door was always open to me and
if I called and she didn’t have an appointments she’d say, "Len, I’ll
meet you downstairs in 10 minutes." She would come down and walk the
grounds, and I'd say, "Well here’s what I would like to do." She would
reply, "Len, you never disappoint so go ahead and do it.”
Dr. Sweeny also has an avid
interest in the grounds. And he paid me probably the highest compliment
last year by saying, "You made my campus all the years that you have
been here. You made CNR.” Coming from him, that’s great praise.
He’s knowledgeable, and he has taken a special interest in what we have
tried to achieve.
How many acres are your responsibility?
I’m responsible for ten and
three quarter acres.
Besides being a talented grounds keeper, you also had a career as a
freelance artist and illustrator?
Yes, that’s right. I worked
on the promotional opening for The Carol Burnett Show -- the one where
she comes out with the mop. I also worked on the Maypo commercial.
Remember, “I want my Maypo!”
This was all in the late
1950s and the 1960s, and into the early ’70s. I did commercial art work
for 3M. For seven years I did 3M’s Christmas promotional advertisement
that appears in Time, Newsweek, and other magazines.
I worked on the West Coast
for Hanna and Barbera on the original Yogi Bear and Huckleberry Hound.
I was involved with the promotional work for Moby Dick that starred
Gregory Peck, who I met and spent time with. What a wonderful man.
I worked with three
animators: Carlo Vinci, who handled Snow White. and Johnny Gentile, who
handled Popeye and Felix the Cat. Here in New Rochelle I worked for
Paul Terry on Heckle & Jeckle. At that time he sold the business to
CBS and I was their employee. I worked with some wonderful, creative
people, Gene Deitch who did Little Shop of Horrors, Jules Pfeifer, as
well as all the large ad agencies, Young & Rubicam, Foote, Cone
But you gave it all up.
Well, my wife and I had a
young family and to continue I would have to move to New York City or
California, and she didn’t want to leave her family here in New
Rochelle. So, I concentrated on flowers and trees and the College. It
has been a good life for me. Also, it has given me time for my other
What are those interests?
Architecture is one of them.
I travel the country studying interesting buildings. I appreciate old
and good architecture.
What’s your favorite architectural period.
I would say the Victorian
age, from 1847 to 1910.
Of all the buildings on campus which one is your favorite?
That’s hard. I would say,
Brescia. You have to look at Brescia from top to bottom to really
appreciate it. Second most interesting to me is Old Science. Look at
some of the masonry work and the design. Wonderful work.
So it has been a good life here at CNR?
Yes it has. It has been a
wonderful life full of beauty. How does that old song go, ‘I Never
Promised You a Rose Garden’? Well, CNR has given me a rose garden to
love and nourish for half a century. That’s not a bad way to earn a