Pond Builds With Deeper Meaning

Published on August 25, 2022

I’m often asked why I got into this very tough business and how Aquatica has remained successful over two decades. I always smile and tell them, “Ponds are my purpose, my calling, my way of touching people’s lives. It has not been easy, but I know that it has been worth it.”

Healing Garden at Ronald McDonald House
The healing garden continues to inspire those at Milwaukee’s Ronald McDonald House.

After you’ve been in the water feature and pond business for a long time, you start to develop perspective and appreciation for ways you can help people and touch their lives through water. Water gardening, ponds and water features can do just that — help people. Our latest slogan is, “You may not need a waterscape in these stressful times — or do you?”

Water-Gardening Roots

Spiritual water garden
Water can be a spiritual experience in the garden, as shown in this Mequon, Wisconsin backyard.
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I think the more our culture and society change and speed up, the more people need a way to reconnect with nature and slow down. Water features help us relax and regain a connection with ourselves, our families and a higher power. Ponds are a portal to something very, very special.

My journey started in my grandparents’ backyard. I got a front-row seat to being raised by the Greatest Generation. My grandparents were very creative, outdoor-loving people. It’s where my water-gardening roots came from. They bought me a pond kit from the local garden center, and we built our first pond in their garden. The memories made around that pond are forever etched into my memory. My grandparents used to sit and listen to Milwaukee Brewers baseball games every summer night by the pond.

When I started Aquatica, my first project was to rebuild my grandparents’ original pond. Over the years, that first pond became the center of our family. My relatives share in the love of ponds, and most have become pond owners themselves. My grandparents are special people. I have learned from them almost everything I know about rock work, landscape design and, most importantly, how to treat people. Their pond brought our family together at every gathering, and the neighborhood enjoyed it, too. I don’t know many things that can accomplish all those things, even nowadays.

Lee Kellerman
Dean’s grandmother, Lee Kellermann, sits next to the pond with her dog, Sami.

As Aquatica grew, so did my ability to help people through ponds. Early on, I became very aware that there was something extra-special about building ponds and connecting with people through what we do. It wasn’t merely building a pond or water feature; it meant so much more than that. Whether it was an employee needing financial support, a client grieving a loved one or a friend going through a health crisis, we have always been there to bring comfort and ease to the weight of whatever they were dealing with. When we have our annual company meetings, one of the main things we review is the purpose of our company and why we do what we do.

Aquatica has countless stories of how a water feature can touch the lives of people in so many ways. We have built a long list of water gardens and ponds for senior living centers, hospitals, funeral homes, and university campuses with dedications and donors of loved ones who have passed. Their memories and souls can live on with the help and vision of a pond builder. Here are a few of those stories.

I will forever remember one of our first professional pond projects with Nancy and Dean H. They approached us to build a pond that could help them cope with the loss of their beloved daughter, who had died of lupus just after her 19th birthday. She had always wanted a pond, but it never materialized.

In Memoriam

In their sadness, Nancy and Dean wanted to create a memorial for their daughter, but they weren’t quite sure what it should be. They wanted to express her love of life. They had seen an Aquatica display at one of our home shows and instantly knew what to do for the memorial. The pond became a way to remember their daughter and her beautiful soul.

Oak Creek Library Healing Garden
Tom B.’s (top, left) Oak Creek Library Healing Garden is a sanctuary.

Today, her picture hangs to the right of the window so that people see her portrait and the pond at the same time from inside the house. Sadly, Dean also has since passed away. The pond maintains a constant source of comfort and joy for Nancy and her family and keeps their memories alive. I have become lifelong friends with her and treasure our strong connection, all because I had the honor and privilege to be a part of such a special project. I know that every time someone looks at or enjoys the pond, Dean and his daughter are there with the family, too.

I’m Lovin’ It

We took part in another inspirational project at the Ronald McDonald House (RMH) Eastern Charities. This amazing facility is full of love and life for families and children going through cancer. It is a home away from home for so many people who need an extended family of people working on their behalf in their time of need.

Aquatica was approached by Ms. Ann, who was a lifelong volunteer and Master Gardener at RMH. She was a big fan of Aquatica and wanted to work with us for their renovation of the facility’s Healing Garden. She expressed how important and instrumental this new water feature would be in bringing an oasis to guests and families in great need. I never imagined how impactful this would be for our company. The pond on site was very old, dated and not functioning. In 2011, we renovated the pond into a beautiful pondless waterfall. It has now become a beacon for hope and healing.

The birds, dragonflies, frogs, and most importantly, people can enjoy this feature during their darkest times. To the RMH, this was an opportunity to breathe new life into a very tired landscape. The gardens have since been renovated around the pondless waterfall, and the Healing Garden is now the showpiece that is envied by other centers around the country.

Ms. Ann and I have become great friends over the years. She tells us stories of patients and families using the gardens to process their situation and how the waterfall and surrounding nature help them cope with what they are going through. Since 2011, Aquatica has donated 100% of our labor and resources to keep this feature shining and looking its best. We are there weekly to check on it, and we will keep doing this for as long as we are in business. It is a humbling feeling to be a part of something so compelling and meaningful.

A Final Wish

In spring 2022, one of our longtime clients unexpectedly came into our store and shared her heartfelt gratitude for our help with her pondless waterfall the previous year.

memorial turtle pond
The Wildlife in Need Cente turtle pond project displays a memorial plaque.

Aquatica built a waterfall and pond feature for Penny and Mike H. many, many years ago; however, we hadn’t serviced it for almost 20 years, as they were hands-on and enjoyed caring for the feature themselves. In early 2021, Penny called our service manager, Sean Gallaway, to see if we could get the waterfall running before her husband came home from the hospital. He was terminally ill, and she wanted him to see the waterfall one last time before he died. Sean and I discussed how we could get this accomplished, as we were literally booked for months and normally would not have been able to schedule this service call for weeks. We decided to immediately rearrange our entire schedule and went there the next day.

So, when Penny came into our store to thank us, she told us with tears in her eyes how happy the running waterfall had made Mike. He died two days after coming home from the hospital and spent his last hours listening to the waterfall running. Thank God we got his waterfall running before he passed. Something as little as that had made such a lasting impact in his final hours.

I will never take for granted such a small request, because you never know how much it can impact someone in need. A missed opportunity to make a difference can never be recovered.

Love for Logan

A few years back, we were approached by a grieving family who had lost their 8-year-old boy, Logan, to myocarditis. He had been a healthy boy, but within three weeks of collapsing, he tragically passed away. It was devastating for his family.

scenic view from home
Creating a scenic view from inside a home can be incredibly meaningful.

His mother called us to build a memorial pond and waterfall for their family, because Logan had been an avid water lover. The family wanted his initials carved into the main waterfall stone and lit up at night. Graduation pictures, family gatherings and pond hangouts have helped the family feel closer to Logan.

A family of immense faith, they took action and have since written a book, started a very successful charity called Love for Logan and served as a true example of selfless giving after such a tragedy. The pond is a standing tribute and reminder of Logan’s time here on earth and a constant reminder of his love for water.

Finding Meaning

So many people turn grief and loss into action. They are heroes among us. One of those heroes is Tom B., whom I met when he wanted to build a healing garden as a loving tribute to his late wife who had recently passed away. He had retired as the local fire chief and continues to be a huge part of his community. Tom had the insight to know what he wanted and felt that a healing garden at the new library and police station development was the perfect way to commemorate his wife and her love of gardening.

Aquatica designed an interactive pondless waterfall for young kids to enjoy and learn from. Adults can admire, listen, sit and read a book near the water. The lively entryway feature happily greets all patrons as they walk into the library. It is incredibly inspiring to think of all the people who admire this feature daily and are impacted by Tom’s vision and generosity. It never ceases to amaze me how people can take a sorrowful situation and turn it into such a meaningful experience for others.

One Yellow Koi

Nine years ago, Diane and Tony N. came to Aquatica looking for a water feature for the front of their home, something they had always talked about building for their son, Leo, who was born with leukodystrophy.

“As our son’s ability to be mobile decreased, we were looking for a way to bring the world to him,” Diane told me. “We wanted to provide a place of serenity in a time when his body was experiencing immense pain. The soothing sound of the water flowing allowed him to find peace, often resulting in him drifting off into a deep slumber. The motion of fish captivated his attention and took attention away from his pain.”

Diane N. enjoys the pond with her son Leo.

Through the years, Aquatica built multiple water features at Diane and Tony’s for Leo to enjoy. From the first time we met, I knew he was special. It wasn’t because of his disability or inability to do things most kids could do. It was his smile, his heart, his excitement for life and his ability to make others smile. Leo loved his ponds and had a blast being in charge during the builds. Whether it was telling the guys where to place his favorite rocks or making sure we were doing OK, he was always there to help. He loved his fish — especially the yellow koi. Leo would always make sure they had at least one or two in the pond.

Sadly, two years ago, we were informed that Leo had passed away shortly after Christmas. Today, the family has carried on their son’s legacy by making sure that there is at least one yellow koi in the pond. Diane and Tony’s projects were more than just jobs; they have become like family to us at Aquatica. We were a partnership to bring the dream of a child to life — his love for water, fish and rocks all together in one place.

A Boy’s Treasure

Another particularly special client will forever be in our hearts. (In fact, “client” is an unfair description of a family we consider dear friends.)

This family introduced us to their son more than 15 years ago during a visit to design a pondless waterfall. The boy had some extreme physical challenges and was also nonverbal. The amazing love the entire family had for him was clear from the first time we met. The objective for installing the water feature was to provide joy and relaxation for this little boy.

The boy would spend hours out of his wheelchair lying alongside the waterfall and stream, smiling and relaxing. The family told us over the years how impactful and meaningful the waterfall had become. After a long battle with physical challenges, we were recently sadly informed that the boy had passed away. The nearby lake and this water feature were the boy’s two favorite places in the world – it’s even etched on his headstone.

We are so grateful for having been even a small part of this little boy’s journey and a source of comfort. We are still in contact and remain good friends with the family. They continue to remind us of how important this water feature was to them and their boy.

Sights & Sounds

waterfall at sunset
The magical power of a simple waterfall at sunset is all but palpable.

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a gut-wrenching illness. It is horrific. I write this with tears in my eyes.

Aquatica was approached by a husband who wanted to comfort his dying wife with something she could look at from her bedroom window. She loved nature, water and fish. He knew that as her disease took over her body, all she would have left would be her functions of sight and sound. He wanted her to be able to continue to view the pond from her bed, so we designed the pond and waterfalls in such a way that she could get the maximum sound and the best view. The entire bedroom was remodeled with a larger picture window and layout to accommodate her view of the pond. The pond was the last thing she saw on this earth!

People gravitate toward water in times of grieving, love and life. Water features can be the perfect memorial and bright source of comfort in an otherwise hectic world.

Never take for granted the higher power of a pond.

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