Levendusky Landscape went all the way to help a Pennsylvania family

Sometimes it’s hard to imagine a practical solution to how you, as a landscape or lawn care business, can give back to your local community. Last summer, Joe Levendusky, owner of Levendusky Landscape in Wellsville, Pa., got that golden opportunity when Jeff Musser of Musser’s Home Builders in Dillsburg, Pa., asked him to lead the landscaping arm of a York County, Pa., Extreme Makeover project.

The completed landscaping as part of the Extreme Makeover project at the Keefer home in Etters, Pa.

Levendusky Landscape

Owner: Joseph Levendusky
Founded: 1979
Headquarters: Wellsville, Pa.
Market Area: Cumberland, Dauphin and York counties
Services: Landscape design/planting, patios, ponds/water features, outdoor rooms, stone retaining walls, seeding/sodding/wildflowers, design/construction, lighting, irrigation, landscape maintenance, snow removal and fences
Employees: 6 full time and 3 seasonal/part time
Website: www.levendusky.com

Extreme Makeover is an ABC reality program led by Ty Pennington, who does a door knock to begin a project to restore a home and its property for a needy family. Says the program’s website: “We don’t know about you, but it is what’s lurking behind that big bus which keeps us absolutely riveted from week-to-week: a house pimped out to the extreme. It’s extremely uplifting, as the renovated home always belongs to a deserving family. It’s extreme transformation. And it’s extremely community-oriented.”

This time, the family picked by Extreme Makeover was in Etters, Pa., home of the Keefer family. During his 2008 summer break from Lock Haven University, a gymnastics accident in a facility near his home resulted in Brian Keefer being paralyzed from the neck down. The home needed some special features due to Brian’s lack of mobility and therapeutic needs.

Altruism at work

“After hearing the story of the Keefer family, I wanted to offer my landscape experience and resources to the project. I knew this would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I couldn’t pass up,” says Levendusky.

Any Extreme Makeover project requires quick-thinking and planning, meaning that Levendusky had about 18 days to gather volunteers, plant materials and equipment, as well as come up with a landscape design that benefited Keefer’s mobility needs. “I agreed to help with the project June 1 and the ‘door knock’ was on June 19,” says Levendusky. “We had to develop the landscape design from site drawings and pictures, and also, we had discussions with the designer from Extreme Home Makeover. We were not able to visit the site in-person.”

Not Your Average Joe

For 36 years, Joe Levendusky has built a career in the landscape and nursery industries. In 1975 he began working for Copenhaver Nurseries in Mechanicsburg, Pa., as a landscape foreman, and eventually moved into landscape sales and design and nursery management. In 1979 he started Levendusky Landscape, building it from the bottom up.

Levendusky had to design the pool and 900 square feet of pavers to be wheelchair accessible.

“I believe the key to our success over the years is diversification,” says Levendusky. “We have the knowledge and capability to offer our customers the total package from landscape design, to planting, to construction, to lighting, to water features, and, finally, to landscape maintenance. We specialize in custom residential projects and outdoor living areas, but also provide services to businesses and town home communities.”
Levendusky is a family-owned business, with his wife, Cheryl, working as the office manager, and his son, Ryan, working as the lead foreman, as well as Levendusky’s right-hand man.

“All three of my children have worked in my business over the years, and I believe that the closeness that I feel with my family is another reason that drew me to the Extreme Home Makeover and helping the Keefer family,” states Levendusky. “The closeness and strength that they have shown as a family in the face of adversity can serve as an inspiration to us all.”

Levendusky is also involved with many central Pennsylvania landscape and garden shows, which help promote the landscape and nursery industries in Pennsylvania, as well as aim to educate the public of green living options.

Levendusky is glad he took this opportunity to help out his neighbors. He was able to use his landscaping skills and materials to make life easier and beautiful to a family hit by tragedy. The Keefer family episode aired on Friday, October 21 on ABC.
Joe Levendusky will be the first to admit that he couldn’t have completed this project without the help of volunteers and donations. The following central Pennsylvania companies donated materials, labor and/or support for the Keefer Extreme Makeover project:

* Best Line Equipment, www.bestlineinc.com
* Zeager Brothers’ Mulch, www.zeager.com
* Diller Nursery, www.dillernursery.com
* Quality Greenhouse, www.qualitygreenhouses.net
* Capitol Hardscapes, www.capitolhardscapesinc.com
* Steve Krall from Krall Contracting, www.rekrall.com
* Watson Supply, www.watsonsupplyinc.com
* Nikos Phelps from Utopian Landscapes, www.utopianlandscapesllc.com
* Jesse James Landscapes, www.jessejameslandscapes.com
* Joe Mack from New Growth Landscaping, www.nglandscaping.com
* Brock Artnz from The Textured Edge, www.thetexturededge.com
* Ryan Weisberg from Outdoor Expressions, www.outdoorexpressionslandscape.com
* Brenden Orth from Orth Lawn Care, orthlawncare@aol.com
* Bruce Stryker from York Tree Service, www.yorktreeservice.com
* Highland Gardens, www.highlandgardens.org
* Sporting Valley Sod, www.usaturf.com
* 7 Mountain Sod, www.7mtnsod.com
* Jeff Shipman from Garden by the Barn, www.gardenbythebarn.com
* Mark McCurdy from McCurdy’s Tree Farm, www.mccurdystreefarm.com
* And many volunteers from the community.

Practical and eye-catching

Levendusky and his crew had to design the pool, patio and landscaping to be wheelchair accessible for Keefer, includinga 12-by-24-foot Viking Sun Coast pool. A lot of the landscape design focused on the patio and the pool areas to give Keefer more independence than what he had before the restoration.

“From the rear of his living area, Brian can directly roll out onto a patio pool area, travel down a compacted gravel path to a large wood-burning fireplace with natural flagstone sitting area surrounded by boulders and Airstream camper to create a family camping area” says Levendusky. “The plant design offers seasonal color and low maintenance; a combination of evergreens, trees, shrubs, perennials, annuals and potted plants. Over 13,000 square feet of sod was laid around the home, and the foundation planting was accented by landscaped lighting.”

A large fireplace with natural flagstone sitting area creates a family camping space in the Keefer’s backyard.

The patio is 900 square feet of architectural pavers that is accessible from the house to the pool and wraps around three of four sides of the pool. Due to the steep grade on the right side of the property, a 110-foot-long retaining wall was installed to extend the side yard area into a level, more useable space while allowing access to the back pool area without going through the home. “Aesthetically, the wall served as a great accent to the landscape,” says Levendusky.

Ongoing maintenance

There was a 72-hour window to this assignment, from the time the landscape materials arrived on Thursday, June 23, to the final cleanup on Sunday, June 26. And everything had to be done perfectly. There was no time to redo any mistakes with such a short time frame for completing the project. “Work was continuous, with an average of 12 skilled landscape workers on site at eight to 12-hour shifts, and many other volunteers helping with the project,” says Levendusky. His company donated approximately 550 manhours from the beginning of June until the “reveal” on June 26. Since then, his company has put in 200 additional hours improving the property’s drainage and other water control issues, as well as a variety of landscape maintenance tasks.

To make sure the property gets good care, Levendusky educated the Keefers’ one son, Scott, and an aunt about landscape maintenance. Levendusky feels confident that this new addition will be properly cared for in the years to come. “We have provided them with a detailed recommendation for maintenance and have been available to answer any questions that they have,” says Levendusky.

Post-project review

Levendusky reflects upon the most rewarding aspect of this project. “Getting to meet and know the family. The Keefers are a great example of a family working and pulling together to overcome adversity. It was amazing how much of a difference you can make in a family’s life by donating your time, hard work and money.”

Joe Levendusky and his Extreme Makeover crew: From left, Carole Brennan, Ryan Levendusky, Doug Chopak, Joe Levendusky (yellow hat) and Cheryl Levendusky

Yet, the project presented some tough challenges. “We found it difficult to design, secure landscape materials and coordinate volunteers in such a short time frame. When you only have a few days to do this magnitude of work, you have to schedule your time so precisely,” says Levendusky. “We had to have both manpower and materials on site when we had an opportunity to push forward and get a significant amount of work done. Although there were many companies that were able to donate materials, there were also many materials that we just had to step up and purchase and donate.

“As the lead, the week of the build was a tremendous challenge, both physically and mentally. There were so many decisions to be made that I couldn’t take the chance of not being on site while landscaping activities were taking place. Over the final three days, we were landscaping 24 hours a day, so I was lucky to catch an hour of sleep in my truck before having to head back to the site.”

Levendusky encourages other landscape companies to lend a helping hand in their communities, no matter what that looks like. “Seeing so many people show up to help in anyway they can, out of the goodness of their heart, really put things into perspective. The relationship we have developed with the Keefer family, months after the build, and their continuous appreciation for what we have done, is priceless.”

Joe Levendusky had just 18 days to get everything ready to landscape this Pennsylvania property-a plan, workers and materials. Then he and his crews worked around the clock for three days as their contribution to this Extreme Makeover project.

A member of the Garden Writers Association, Komancheck writes about the green industry from her home near Ephrata, Pa. Contact her at wendykomancheck@gmail.com.