INWOOD — Ask residents of the Park Terrace section of Inwood what their favorite part of the neighborhood is and many will say Bruce's Garden, a plot of land at the northwest edge of Isham Park that hosts vibrant flowers and verdant foliage throughout the year.
The community garden is named for Bruce Reynolds, an Inwood native and Port Authority cop who died on Sept. 11, 2001 after dashing to the towers from his post at the George Washington Bridge.
According to the Parks Department, Reynolds, 41, a 15-year veteran, died while helping a woman who had been seriously burned by jet fuel.
"Every time I walk by the garden I am struck by its beauty and the sacrifice Bruce Reynolds gave that day," said Mary Mullins, 48, as she walked along the gate on Park Terrace East, between 214th and 215th streets.
The garden serves as more than a 9/11 memorial. For many, it is a reminder of the power of an individual to shape a community.
Founded in 1970 as the Wild & Woodland Community Garden, the space has has been a a labor of love for the Reynolds family and a crew of volunteers who tilled the soil and planted seeds for more than four decades, creating an oasis at the highest point in Inwood.
The northern section of the neighborhood was different at that time, say longtime residents.
Gangs ruled nearby Isham Park and made it difficult and dangerous for anyone to enjoy the 20 acres of green space that sit between Broadway and the massive Inwood Hill Park on the eastern bank of the Hudson River.
Reynolds was just 12 and living in Inwood at the time, when he began to dream of becoming a cop. His father and mother, J.A. and Geraldine Reynolds, formed the Park Terrace West Gang with funding from the New York Department of Youth Services in an attempt to engage local kids in more fruitful activities.
Reynolds, who left behind his wife, Marian McBridea and two children, spent a lot of time in that park, learning about horticulture alongside kids who worked hard to make something better of their lives.
The program lived on as he joined the Parks Department as an Urban Park Ranger and later started to work with the Port Authority.
At a recent memorial ceremony where a plaque was installed at the garden to commemorate the 10th anniversary of Reynolds' death, some of the same neighborhood kids, now grown, came to pay their respects.
Inwood native Jim O'Connell said the experience working in the park with Reynolds' father was a turning point in his life.
"He not only helped us and gave us something to do, he taught us a work ethic," he said.
"Bruce, even as a small boy, worked here in the garden...his sweat is in this soil with all of yours," Ramadan told the memorial attendees. "This garden represents the strength of community and what it can accomplish when it comes together."
State Sen. Adriano Espaillat's community liason Elizabeth Lorris Ritter, a Washington Heights resident and chair of CB12’s Parks and Cultural Affairs committee, spoke on the senator's behalf at the ceremony.
"It is said that you can bury a lot of troubles when you're digging in the dirt," she said. "And you have done that, Mr. Reynolds, as you rededicated your efforts to make this garden beautiful in Bruce's memory."
Reynolds' father, who still regularly tends the garden, said he hoped the memorial plaque honoring his son would continue to teach neighborhood kids about the meaning of the green space.
"In all of this, losing my son was the hardest and I will never forget," he said. "But my hope is that the dedication of this plaque will help teach children about the meaning of this garden."