Stolen till threatens 45-year-old garden

By Justin Boron

On a corner lot in Forest Park, there is a garden where an elderly woman and her husband cultivate their panacea for a life weighted down mostly by tribulation and loss.

The same soil that every year produces rows of tomato plants, fig trees, and jalapeéo peppers also has developed an immovable optimism in the Dooleys.

Arnold, 84, and Ola Dooley, 80, said gardening was one of the major ways that they worked through the deaths of their five children. Four of them Sidney, Steven, Julian, and Lynn passed away from the same rare disease, neurocanthocytosis, which results in abnormal red blood cells and can cause erratic behavior and epilepsy, according to huntingtondisease.tripod.com.

Their oldest daughter was the only one that did not have the disease. But she was born breathless and was handicapped.

"We grieve for them, but we did not let it consume us," Ms. Dooley said. "You have to accept it."

Ms. Dooley recently walked through the garden with Sassy, her caramel-splashed, calico cat and anxiously picked off vegetables saves for gifts to visitors.

"She's spoiled," Ms. Dooley said of the cat. "She follows us like a dog would."

As she stepped over the lament in a ruined potato crop, tomatoes that survived the storms in the past few weeks raised her spirits.

But episodes like these could come to an halt, all because of a thief.

The tiller the Dooleys used to plow the garden every year recently was stolen.

"It was just sitting under a carport," said Dooley, who needs the tiller after suffering from five fractured vertebrate. "I had it tuned up working good."

On the night of May 20, Forest Park police say someone used a truck to take the tiller, which is price-tagged at around $200 but is more of an invaluable asset to the Dooleys.

Although the police searched for it, Capt. Chris Matson said it is often difficult to recover items like mowers and tools because thieves can change the appearance of them so easily. He said they are usually sold or pawned with few distinguishing characteristics and no serial number.

The police department has a program called "Project ID" in which seniors can get any of their property engraved free of charge, Matson said.

Ms. Dooley said she thought she found the tiller a the day it was stolen.

While at a senior center luau, she got word that someone saw a tiller at a house nearby her home.

But her hopes dropped to the ground after seeing it.

It definitely wasn't hers.

The Dooleys have become well-known in the community for their activity in city government, the senior center, and their garden.

Without the mention of a name, police recognized the couple for their the corner lot near Starr Park.

"They're kind of a Forest Park icon," Matson said.

Barbara Murphy, 72, who works at the senior center said the two seem to have been in the city forever.

"(Ola)'s into everything," she said.

With little hope though of finding the tool, the Dooleys say they may have to give up their garden.

And if crime continues to increase in the area, Ms. Dooley said they may want to leave altogether.

Some of their friends, she said, are surprised they haven't moved already, but not because of crime.

Instead, Ms. Dooley says that her friends ask them with all the heartbreak that has overshadowed the house, why haven't they moved?

'How do you stand it?', she says they ask.

She said she replies, "Where would we go? This house has got good memories for us."