Serenity garden dedicated to Will Waters at Palma Sola Botanical Park

MANATEE -- With the backdrop of giant lily pads, where large turtles glide easily under the murky surface of a calm pond and newly planted flowers and plants adorn a rocky, outcropped garden, a man who lent his extensive expertise to the creation and sustainability of Palma Sola Botanical Park was paid homage on Wednesday with a serenity garden dedicated in his honor.

The park is at 9800 17th Ave. N.W., near Robinson Preserve in Bradenton.

Will Waters died in September 2013.

After serving stateside during the Korean War, he returned to college where he received a master's degree in agriculture and a doctoral degree from the University of Florida. From there he went to work for the university at the Gulf Coast Research and Education Center in Bradenton before creating the IFAS research center in Apopka north of Orlando.

In 1970, he returned to the Bradenton center where he served as director until his retirement in 1998. But according to his daughter, Sheila Orlovsky, her dad never really retired from what he loved to do.

"He spent a lot of time lining things up at home for the park, working for weeks and weeks to get ready for the annual plant sales," said Orlovsky. "He loved working out in the garden, and he taught us so much about life, nature and horticulture. He gave us a good sense of making something of ourselves by working hard. He lived a good life. He was a really fine man."

The father of three and husband of 61 years to Elizabeth, Waters is known throughout the world for his work and has been repeatedly recognized for his agricultural leadership in Florida.

Jim Price was hired by Waters at the Bradenton research center in 1978, and worked for Waters until his retirement.

"I count him as my boss and my friend," said Price. "It's incredibly appropriate we dedicate this flower garden. ... It was his life, career and passion."

So much so that, despite the importance of his work that proved to be important to economies in cities across the state, instilling his passion into his family was just as important.

"We had a huge garden at home and me, my sister and brother would have to water and weed," said Orlovsky. "I would complain because I wanted to watch TV or play with my friends, but I appreciate the sense of responsibility he taught me and how what he did was contributing to the family, community and environment. He loved this park. He loved coming here. It makes me feel so proud of him that he contributed so much, and they recognize and appreciate everything he did."

Elizabeth Waters said her late husband was a self-made man.

"When we met in college, he was living on a farm growing strawberries," she recalled. "Eventually, he became very taken by agriculture and horticulture. His father was a coal miner in Kentucky and he wanted his son to be a coal miner, but he said, 'No thank you, Dad. I'm going to college.'"

Little did so many people who were helped by Waters' work and research know how important that decision would be to their own lives and livelihoods. Elizabeth Waters said the family is grateful that he will be remembered.

"It's a pleasant day and it's good to know they remember him as being important in their lives," she said. "His work was important to the whole world and feeding the whole world. He loved his children and he wanted to become educated and they did, and now his son is home from missionary work and will get back in agriculture, too. He was smart, strong, understanding and patient. Not bad for a little poor boy from the country who made it good."

When considering what Waters did for a living, the obvious question was to ask about the spectacular flowers she must have received as his wife. It was the first time Elizabeth Waters struggled with her tears, but at the same time there was an unmistakable sparkle in her eyes.

"Yes, they were something," she said.

Waters was highly praised by those attending Wednesday's dedication, but perhaps Orlovsky summed up her father's time on earth the best:

"He was an uncharacteristically good and honest man," she said. "He's not the kind of man you run into every day in this world."

Mark Young, Herald urban affairs reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041 or follow him on Twitter @urbanmark2014.