Pekin couple transform backyard into 8000 gallon pond

‘I’m a believer that whoever has the most fish wins,” said Ron Kramer as the bright yellow and orange koi in his backyard pond swarmed for the pellets of fish food falling from Kramer’s hands.

“Having said that, I will tell you that there is a certain number of fish per gallon of water that you aren’t supposed to exceed,” Kramer said. “I’m way over that.”

The large 8,000 gallon pond and waterfall that Kramer and his wife Patty installed six years ago is home to about 62 fish. There would be more but the Kramers lost about 55 fish last winter when an aerator failed.

As president of the Prairieland Koi Pond Society, Kramer tends to meet people who have excess koi. He has been known to rescue fish. They are the only pets the couple have since Patty Kramer is allergic to pet dander. The more notable among the school have names – Nemo, Heckle and Jeckle, Angel, Boss Hog.

“The grandkids named half of them,” said Patty Kramer.

Each morning the retired couple feed the fish together, sitting on the concrete benches that grace the edges of both the upper and lower ponds.

Patty, 65, and Ron, 66, have only been married for eight years. They met online when Patty lived in Springfield and Ron in East Peoria. When they decided to marry, both put their homes on the market and started house hunting in the Peoria area.

“We looked at nine different homes and then we came to this one,” Ron Kramer said of the couple’s 1943 Mediterranean-style home with a tile roof in Pekin. They went through the house and thought it was nice, then they saw the backyard. “We looked at each other and both gave a thumbs-up.”

Since both Patty and Ron are avid gardeners, the spacious yard was what sold the house. Though a large portion of the yard is now pond, Ron Kramer said it wasn’t until they’d lived in the house for two years that he decided to put in the water feature.

“The house down the street has a small pond and waterfall.” Ron Kramer said. “I drove by it many times and I thought, by gosh, why can’t we have one?”

Patty Kramer was less than enchanted by the idea when her husband first proposed it. “Are you crazy?” Ron Kramer remembers his wife saying.

“I originally told Patty it would cost $2,500,” Ron Kramer said. “About $12,000 later we had a pond.”

Ron Kramer excavated the pond by hand. He started digging in April and by August the pond was full and the pumps were moving water.

The elaborate landscape around the pond came later. Patty Kramer helped her husband buy decorative rock at a nearby gravel pit. “She stood at the top of the pile and pushed rocks down to me,” Ron Kramer said. The pond is surrounded by about four tons of boulders.

Interspersed among the rocks and pathways are a variety of hostas, ferns, day lilies, impatiens, grasses and assorted ground covers. Branches from a lilac bush that pre-dates the pond hang down to the edge of the water. Ron Kramer planned the pond around the old bush.

When designing the pond, Kramer used a garden hose as a layout tool before he began digging. Since the hose can be bent into any curve, it helped the couple visualize the pond among their existing landscaping.

Once the pond was in, the Kramers continued to add to the surrounding landscape. “Each year we did a little more, and it never stops,” Ron Kramer said. “There’s always something to do.”

Besides the work caused by the evolving design, the pond is also heavy on maintenance. Each day the filters must be cleaned, in part because the pond is home to so many fish. “Fish poop,” said Ron Kramer.

Seasonal maintenance includes cutting back the rushes and cattails that grow in the pond each fall. Leaving them would create organic debris to clog the pond’s plumbing, Ron Kramer said. Under the best conditions pumps only last about five years. Kramer said he replaces his pumps every two years. The pond’s liner is also a maintenance consideration since it only lasts about five years. And each year it must be cleaned, a job which led to a broken wrist for Ron Kramer this spring. He lost his footing on the slick algae that grows in the bottom of the pond.

“It gets to be that we’re glad when fall comes,” said Patty Kramer. But the desire to kick back and relax doesn’t last long for the active couple. Over the winter they watch gardening programs for new ideas for their yard. This spring they started work on a new water feature, a fountain covered in Mexican tile to dress up the back wall of their garage.

“There’s always something to change,” said Ron Kramer.

Leslie Renken can be reached at 686-3250 or

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