BY KRISTIN SCHULTZ
NISKAYUNA — William “Bill” Jackowski has had his hands in the dirt since grade school. Now, at age 87, he continues to plant and sow both tomatoes and friendships at Ingersoll Place in Niskayuna.
Jackowski and his wife, Virginia, have been married 57 years. They moved to Ingersoll from Clifton Park five and a half years ago, and it wasn’t long after that that Jackowski set his sights on planting tomatoes on the facility’s grounds.
“I grow the tomatoes and give them to the residents,” said Jackowski. “I get to know the residents better.”
Gardening and relationships have always gone hand-in-hand for Jackowski. As a child, he and his father dug a half-acre garden by hand.
“I would hear guys in the background playing baseball and here I am digging up the ground,” he said.
After a while, the sound of others playing while he was working didn’t bother him. His childhood garden yielded all kinds of vegetables including tomatoes, beans, carrots, cabbage and more.
“We stored a lot of it over the winter,” Jackowski said.
When he graduated from Wilbur Lynch High School in Amsterdam, he went to Siena College, where he earned a liberal arts degree.
At 6 feet 4 inches tall, Jackowski took advantage of the opportunity to travel overseas and play professional basketball.
The Korean War also took him abroad. Upon his return to the United States, Jackowski attended forest ranger school and worked for the state Department of Conservation in Norwich, where he worked both on a forestry project and with troubled youth.
Jackowski met his wife-to-be at a Christmas cocktail party in Amsterdam.
“She was wearing high heels,” he recalled. “She is a wonderful treasure.”
The couple has three sons and six grandchildren.
This year, Jackowski started tomato plants from seed in his room in February. He put them in the ground before Memorial Day, but all four plants died.
Undeterred, he bought more plants from the store and they survived.
“They took off after that,” Jackowski said. “There were five small [tomatoes], but now there are quite a few bigger ones.”
He expects to pick the first batch of ripe tomatoes soon and deliver them to his neighbors.
“I’ll bring them in to the residents,” Jackowski said. “They look forward to it.”
He grows beefsteak-sized tomatoes and prefers to eat them fresh, not cooked, with a bit of salad dressing or oil and vinegar.
“A BLT is also an excellent way to have a fresh tomato,” he said.
Although there is limited space on the property, Jackowski would like to expand beyond tomatoes and plant other crops to harvest and share. He’s thought about planting beans, carrots, cauliflower and “a few others.”
In addition to gardening, Jackowski enjoys spending time with Virginia taking in the musical entertainment at Ingersoll.
“We like music,” said Jackowski. “There are a lot of good shows here.”
As the summer stretches on, the unofficial gardener-in-residence plans to keep harvesting and sharing tomatoes.
“The residents like that I’m doing it,” he said. “I’m looking forward to a good harvest.”