Small sweat droplets formed on his head during a humid Miami Beach morning. But the heat and humidity didn’t dampen the spirits of gardener Jose Duran, 90.
With a wide smile, Duran walked through his creations at the Pine Tree Park Community Garden in Miami Beach.
For the past few years, Duran has enjoyed spending time in the garden every day. “I love it. It makes me feel especially relaxed and it keeps me busy. My mind is concentrated on this and that I way I don’t think I am getting old,” Duran joked.
Duran has been a staple of the Miami Beach community for five years. But his life has taken him to many locations. Born in 1925 in Cuba, his father was a sugar mill manager and his mother had a garden at the mill. He wanted to be a sculptor at a young age, Duran said.
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He came to Miami at age 37 and never regretted his decision. “I realized that the American dream is there, but you have to work to get it and I did it. I am retired for 28 years already. Now, this is my country. I am very happy,” Duran said.
He worked at a Miami sugar mill for a month until the season was over in the winter. He then moved to New York and got a job. In his interview, the owner warned him that many new employees leave after a few days. This didn’t stop him. After a year of working inside a boiler and improving his English, he was offered to become a partner. He attended all the vocational schools needed to get the licenses required in the field.
He then got a job at a large hotel company in New York. “I started with one screwdriver and pliers in my pocket. Three years later, I was the chief in that hotel. And after three more years, I was transferred to the hotel on Park Avenue where the president of the company was living. Months later, I was transferred to the home office and promoted to supervisor of six hotels in New York.”
During his years working in New York, he found time to build a house and farm for his family in New Jersey. He built everything in the house and farm, including the plumbing. His farm had all different kinds of animals such as chickens, rabbits, pigeons, ducks, pigs, goats, lambs and a cow.
Duran retired in 1987, when he turned 62, and returned to Miami.
At the garden, he is responsible for the banana plantation, lemon tree, worm box and compost area. He also tries his best to aesthetically improve the look of the entire garden area when he can. When he is not at the garden, he is home caring for his wife of 63 years, Elidia.
Many locals adore him. Fellow gardener Aldo Mejias has been working with Duran for years. “I come here to be with him. He has a presence and a peacefulness about him that is very soothing. He’s a friend and a gift to me. I’ve grown attached to him,” Mejias said.
Mejias spoke on Duran’s resolve: “There is not a problem presented in the park that Jose is not able to find a solution to. He will use his mind, and he’ll find a way to overcome the problem. The mental acuity is incredible.”
Tobi Ash, the garden committee’s chairwoman, has been working with Duran since he started there. “I love him. He is a wise, wonderful man. He has been through so much in his life. He really is an inspiration.”
She said he teaches her to go out and be part of the world and do something meaningful every day. “He’s 90, and every day, he is working toward something to make it more beautiful. He brings life.”
In times of chaos, Duran is the relaxed one. “There are times I get so upset and he’s just so calm. It’s beautiful to be around,” Ash said.
“The serenity he has is incredible,” Mejias added.
Duran radiates positivity and pride when talking about the garden. “The main thing in this garden is that whatever you got here, how many people have touched it? Only you. When you go to the grocery store, it was handled by 20 or 40 people. Some of what we have here is very organic. Things like this are good for the Miami Beach citizens. You breathe pure air here.”
According to Mejias and Ash, the park exists and thrives because of Jose Duran. “Everyone who meets him and who knows him loves him. They all want to be around him,” Ash said.
Duran lives his life simply saying: “Try to be nice. Don’t get upset. Concentrate on something that has part of the future. Don’t think your term is ending. Think that when you plant this and it’ll take two years to grow, think that you are going to eat it in two years.”