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Community garden members mourn loss of local gardener

Jim Thornton. // Photo courtesy, Debbie LeVon.

By Mike Hazlip—
Volunteers with the Sylvan Ranch Community Garden in Citrus Heights remember fellow gardener Jim Thornton as one who helped build up the community, both physically and in spirit.

Thornton was laid to rest on April 3, but his handiwork continues to be felt throughout the community garden at the corner of Stock Ranch and Sylvan roads, members say. He was the impetus behind building the raised garden beds that are now part of the garden.

His wife of 52 years, Judy Thornton, remembers her late husband as someone who put others first.

“He was an amazing person,” Judy Thornton said, noting the two met in their twenties. “He loved adventure, was a very outgoing person. There wasn’t a person that he was afraid to talk to. He could make conversation and just make them feel comfortable and just made a lot of friends that way. You know, loved to help people. Loved to serve people.”

With back and knee problems, it was Jim Thornton’s idea to build raised garden beds for the community, Judy Thornton said, an accomplishment that benefits several other members as well.

“He got the ball rolling,” Judy Thornton said, adding that her husband would look for discount lumber at Lowe’s. “That’s how we were able to get the lumber most of the time. He just loved doing that. He loved to be of service, to provide something better for everybody.”

Additionally, Jim Thornton helped with the garden’s greenhouse and its flagstone foundation. The tool shed, built through an Eagle Scout project, also had Thornton’s influence, said garden member Debbie LeVon.

Jim Thornton was a maintenance worker until retirement, his wife said. After his retirement, the couple spent many hours working at the community garden until health concerns forced them to take some time off. They later returned after recovering from cancer treatments, Judy Thornton said.

Paul and Carolyn Ogden remember Thornton as someone who welcomed and helped newcomers to the community.

“He was always welcoming new members and say, what can I do for you? How can I help you?” Paul Ogden said.

Carolyn Ogden called Thornton “the heart of the garden,” recalling his efforts to improve the community.

Paul Ogden, now vice president of the Sylvan Ranch Community Garden as a result of Thornton’s influence, said plans are in the works to create a display plaque to honor Thornton and others who have contributed to the community. He also said a bench at the garden in his memory is another possibility.

Community member Chuck Benward said Thornton has been a part of the garden since the beginning. He remembers Thornton supplying materials, often out of his own pocket.

“He had a lot of experience, lots of ideas,” Benward said. “One of his favorite phrases was saying, ‘We have a lot of board straighteners, so I don’t care if they’re crooked. I will straight them out.'”

Thornton’s presence grew beyond the community garden, Judy Thornton said, with past friends and acquaintances saying he left a lasting impact.

“Everyone who did share something at the funeral was that way, that what an impact he had on their lives and that he would be sorely missed,” she said.

The garden was founded in 2009 with a sponsorship from the city and is now self-sufficient and relies on membership fees and fundraisers to help maintain and improve the location each year.

Gardeners can grow and harvest their vegetables in an assigned 4 x 20-foot plot for an annual membership fee. Other membership levels are available at a lower cost and allow for harvesting from “common areas” and attending the garden’s educational seminars.

Those interested in learning more about the garden can visit

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