On a late summer night, the rose garden at Memorial Park hummed.
In the center, a half-dozen people practiced the slow moves of tai chi. Nearby, a long-married couple stooped here to smell a rose, there to admire a vibrant color. The scent of roses drifted by.
Many hands made this garden, but Dr. John Sage was one of the garden’s most dedicated volunteers over the past two decades.
Sage, who also was influential in Omaha’s medical community and active with the Nebraska Children’s Home, died Thursday at age 87.
“ He’s a big reason why the garden looks the way it does,” said Brook Bench, city parks director. “He can’t be replaced, he’s one of a kind.”
Sage spent many hours tending to the roses at Memorial Park and was among those to provide funding to sustain the garden. He also volunteered at Lauritzen Gardens and the Cancer Survivors Park.
Bench said Sage was more than a parks volunteer. He became a friend, almost a grandfather, to anyone he encountered.
“I can’t stress enough what a neat guy he was — humble, nice,” Bench said. “This is hitting us very hard.”
Sage is survived by his wife of 62 years, Ruthie, two sons, Jay and Peter, and a grandson, John.
Ruthie Sage said her husband felt it was important to give back to the community because it had been good to him.
“He was just a man who loved life, loved being active,” she said.
In addition to gardening, he had been an avid bicyclist, golfer and tennis player. He served in the U.S. Army in Vicenza, Italy.
The couple shared many interests, she said, including bicycling throughout the U.S. and Europe.
“We had a great time,” she said.
Sage brought that same commitment to his 44-year medical career, said Dr. Bill Karrer, a contemporary of Sage’s.
“He took care of whoever came down the pike, whether they had any nickels or not,” Karrer said.
Sage worked to provide medical care to those in need at the Renaissance Clinic, which operated out of the Salvation Army building in midtown. The clinic has since moved to Kountze Commons and was renamed the Methodist Community Health Clinic. Sage and his wife provided funding to help secure the clinic’s success at its new location.
The clinic’s lobby is named after the couple.
Diane Millea, a nurse practitioner at the Methodist Community Health Clinic, had worked with Sage since the clinic began. “Dr. Sage was so passionate about our clinic,” she said, “and he did everything he was capable of doing to make the clinic a better place for the underserved and underinsured.”
Millea recalled Sage bringing medical journal articles to the staff and underlining key points.
Sage also worked with medical professional associations to ensure proper licensing and quality of care, both locally and nationally, Karrer said. He served as president of the Methodist Hospital Medical Staff, Metro Omaha Medical Society, Nebraska Board of Medical Examiners and Federation of State Medical Boards.
“He was a joy to know. He gave everybody confidence and care,” Karrer said. “There aren’t enough adjectives for this guy.”