Worlds of His Own -- Steve Grendzinski
By: Pamela Jean Horter-Moore
Most people lose contact with nature the minute they enter their homes and close the doors behind them. Members of the Society are an exception, since our passion makes us indoor or greenhouse gardeners.
There are people, however, who are not content to leave nature on their doorstep. Their homes become the center of living and thriving ecosystems. Steve Grendzinski and his wife Teri are such people.
The workday pulls Steve away from the restful environment of his home, and to say that his schedule is busy and full might be an understatement. At 4:30 in the morning, he leaves his home in Ross Township to travel fifty miles to Bessemer, a small town west of New Castle, to begin his 6 am shift at Hanson Aggregates, a quarry providing aggregate, concrete and asphalt products to the construction industry in western Pennsylvania and the mid-Ohio Valley.
Working in the heavy industry was a natural choice for Steve, whose hometown is Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, famous for anthracite coal. With a family background in mining, Steve wanted to pursue a career in this field. After studying his options, Steve selected Penn State over the Colorado School of Mining and went on to earn a degree in mining engineering.
Many youngsters grow up with cats and dogs, but Steve’s life has always included the unusual animal as well. He’s had geckoes, a scorpion, boa constrictor, turtles, birds, and a variety of other forms of life. Not surprisingly, then, he worked in a pet shop in State College while going to school, which only enflamed his passion for animals and aquatic life. As an employee, he could purchase supplies wholesale and even acquire some animals while living on a student’s budget. One of these was a parrot that is now 29 years old. One might say that this is quite a commitment to the animal kingdom. Steve later worked at Wilkinsburg Aquarium and Pet Supply.
Like Steve, Teri is a longtime pet owner, having had a rabbit, guinea pig, and birds. As a natural-born animal lover, she is Steve’s perfect partner. Born and raised in the North Hills of Pittsburgh, she is a Penn State graduate in Animal Biology who worked as a veterinarian technician before attaining her degree. She then accepted a position at the National Aviary that brought her home and brought Steve to the Pittsburgh area. She is now a 29-year veteran of the National Aviary of Pittsburgh and President of Pearl Parrot Rescue, an organization that educates owners in the care of birds and assists with their rescue and adoption.
The couple’s home reflects their love of plants and animals, and of nature in its wildness and beauty. Steve maintains a pond outside his home, and inside, nature flourishes regardless of the season. Their living room is surrounded by paintings and artwork of wildlife, and features a paludarium, an enclosed ecosystem that functions as both an aquarium and terrarium.
“The paludarium and terrariums are like little worlds. Full of life competing with itself. It becomes necessary to trim and maintain the variety of pitcher plants, air plants, ferns, and other vegetation,” says Steve.
One terrarium in the living room contains miniature orchids. He became interested in miniatures three years ago when someone suggested that they would be perfect for such an environment. He admits that he has developed an obsession. Steve also grows slipper orchids and has a vanilla orchid that has wrapped itself around its environment but hasn’t yet bloomed.
“I purchased seven orchids at the Orchid Show,” Steve comments. “I’m attracted by the shape of the leaf and the plant, and I am particularly drawn to orchids that produce green flowers.”
Steve has approximately thirty orchids. One of his favorites is Catesetum, from which he has cuttings that have already begun to grow. Some of his other orchids include Paphiopedilum hilo leopard, Dendrobium lichenastrum, Rodrumnia, Angraecum dollii, Mediocalcar decoratum, Pleurothallis grobyi, and Lockhartia bennettii.
Being good with his hands, Steve takes advantage of the woodshop in his basement to create many of the things that are necessary to maintain and grow his indoor habitat, such as cages and stands. He is planning to make another terrarium out of plywood sealed with coats of epoxy. It will measure approximately 3 ½-feet x 2-feet x 2-feet and will be lined for cork for drainage.
Although Steve and Teri share a common love of animals and nature, and have filled their home with both, they currently do not own dogs or cats, believing that their busy schedules would interfere with the care that these familiar pets require, but they have no issue babysitting their friends’ pets once in a while.
Instead, they have fish tanks, and a great variety of birds, including finches, parrots, macaws, and African Greys. They also have a box turtle, a red foot tortoise, and an alligator snapping turtle. “This awesome turtle predates Man’s arrival on earth,” Steve explains. “They can weigh up to hundreds of pounds. Ours weighs between 40 to 50 pounds.”
As someone with a great love of water life, Steve is on the board of the Greater Pittsburgh Aquarium Society, which has just concluded its Spring Auction. The auction is the Society’s largest fund-raising event, and is conducted twice a year – in the spring and in the fall. Open to the public, this event gives people the opportunity to begin or to enlarge their collections of fish and aquatic plants and supplies.
He is also a member of the Pittsburgh Area Planted Aquarium Society, an organization dedicated to aquascaping, which can be described as underwater gardening. Not only does the enthusiast have to consider the aesthetic qualities of the plants and materials that are used, but the requirements of all of these elements, living and nonliving, interacting within a closed system.
Although this organization has become less active since the pandemic, it still has its share of enthusiasts, several of whom, like Steve, are also members of the Orchid Society.
With all Steve has going for him, he also enjoys playing computer games, which provides another respite from his work life at Hanson Aggregates.
Many people dream of a garden of Eden, a primeval place where nature is supreme and humankind is just one of many creatures fitting within what might be called a perfect environment. This is a place where the concept of indoors and outdoors is erased, where animals, people, and plants coexist and everything works together in harmony. Steve and Teri have made their home a place where such a dream is close to a reality.