WHEATON GARDEN CLUB
1925 to 2007
THE VERY BEGINNING
May 30, 1925 the Wheaton Garden Club was organized at the House of the Seven Gables by Mrs. William Lyford, some ladies of the local gentry and a number of ladies who summered here at Chicago Golf. The officers were from the top of the Chicago area social registry including Mrs. Col. Robert McCormick (Chicago Tribune), Mrs. Joy Morton (Morton Salt), Mrs. George Plamondon and Mrs. Col. Fabian.
THE PLANT FLOWER AND FRUIT GUILD
These privileged women understood the power of nature to stimulate and serve humanity. The following year, they and others started the Chicago chapter of the Plant, Flower and Fruit Guild, an organization begun in New York 30 years earlier with the mission to share nature with the urban poor and the sick. The Guild became a helpful adjunct to essential social agencies. The Guild or P. F. & F. became a board position of the Wheaton Garden Club and members became automatic volunteers in P. F. & F.’s mission to deliver cut flowers, vegetables and home-made jams and jellies.
They followed a schedule in the summer months of packing donated flowers in wet newspapers, boxing them and putting them on the trains to the city. The porters in Chicago would often bet on what the boxes would contain. Could it be sweet peas from Hinsdale, peonies from Barrington or zinnias from Wheaton? Member Elaine Fairbanks remembers traveling to the station with her mother to deliver flowers and being amazed at the boxed and boxes of lilacs. At Christmas, cartons of gifts, clothing, food and flowers were delivered.
The founding women and their husbands used their connections in this endeavor. The Chicago, Aurora and Elgin railroad carried the flowers into the city every Thursday and the Chicago and Northwestern loaded flowers and fruit into their baggage cars every day. The Chicago Tribune, Railway Express and other big firms such as Marshall Fields loaned trucks and drivers to make pick-ups at the trains and deliveries to hospitals, agencies and homes. Even the Yellow Cab Company drove and all for free! A newspaper article from 1951 gives some indication of the immense proportions of this undertaking. In the month of August, the P. F. & F. in Wheaton alone donated 5,596 bouquets, 95 pounds of vegetable, 38 pounds of fat and 21 glasses of jam.
This bounty was distributed to hospitals such as Hines Veteran’s Hospital, Cook County (where 100,000 bedside bouquets were delivered in 1937), and Chicago State Hospital, settlement houses, Erie House, Hull House, Mercy House and many other worthy establishments. Thank you notes tell of deep appreciation for the gifts sent from the gardens of club members:
”The experience of seeing a bit of brightness in a world that has already become too dark affords our neighbors with tangible evidence that a lovely spirit gave the gifts – that comes in knowing someone, somewhere hears their cries and answers.”
“This area is without gardens – almost without green, growing things, and the neighbors have anticipated the coming of your gifts each week throughout the summer.”
“It is impossible to describe the effect of fresh flowers on a cold winter day.”
And finally, “Your help is wonderful. People come running when flowers arrive during the summer. Some even pick petals off the floor; they are so anxious for them.”
These powerful women encouraged the growth of garden clubs and P.F. & F. guilds all over the area. It was due largely to their activity that the Garden Clubs of Illinois became a federation and the Wheaton Garden Club a charter member. The Plant, Flower and Fruit Guild itself faded in the 60’s and finally in 1967 the P.F. & F. board position in the Wheaton Garden Club was dropped, a casualty of the times.
AND EVEN MORE
In addition to the seemingly monumental tasks undertaken as part of the P. F. & F., the early Wheaton Garden Club undertook more responsibilities. Meetings were held twice a month from April through November with a winter reunion at the Arts Club or the posh Hotel Pearson in Chicago. (Remember most of our members were only summer residents in Wheaton.) The club started to beautify Wheaton itself by planting the Gary Avenue triangle described as a “joy to all”, a garden at City Hall, a triangle at College and Harrison, the County Convalescent Home and a strip between the Northwestern and the Chicago, Aurora and Elgin tracks from Cross to Main. This garden was planted with evergreens, pink petunias and white zinnias – 140 zinnias, for a cost of $10.50! If that was not enough, the club supported a local project to plant holly hocks to hide “unsightly and unattractive places.” One does wonder how or rather who helped these wealthy women with all this work.
The Garden Club’s first flower show was held at Trinity Episcopal Church in a 1926. The next year Rev. F.H. Millett, also a charter member’s husband delivered a sermon celebrating the first of what would become an annual “Garden Sunday” at Trinity. Special music was sung and club members decorated the church with the best blooms from their gardens which were then distributed to the County Farm Speedwell Hospital.
The 1930’s brought the era of Laura Plamondon, described as the “moving spirit” of the club and designated “Honorary President”, eventually becoming President of the Garden Clubs of Illinois. She opened the club to more town ladies who joined the wealthy women living or summering around Chicago Golf. “One meeting at Mrs. Hurley’s home started with the viewing of four exhibition tables followed by the performance of an operetta called “in a Flower Garden”, and ending with formal tea. This was a guest day and over 100 women attended! The club excelled in flower shows under Mrs. Plamondon’s determined tutorage, winning five ribbons at Navy Pier and a silver medal in 1937 for an arrangement using birch trees, white tulips and white pansies.
THE WAR AND FOLLOWING YEARS
During the war years some changes were made. The annual flower show at Navy Pier was moved as the pier was acquisitioned by the War Department. Elaborate teas or luncheons were banned by board action and only a beverage and one item was served at club meetings. A War Service Committee was formed and many members volunteered at the Red Cross set up at Trinity Church.
Everyone was encouraged to plant victory vegetable gardens but members still concentrated on our flowers – sharing them with veterans’ hospitals and the U.S.O. – to lend peace to enrich the souls. For instance, at the holiday season in 1947, the club decorated the chapel at Vaughn Veteran’s Hospital and provided 2000 magazines for patients. WGC was honored in 1947 for its war-time service.
THE BEAUTIFICATION OF WHEATON
The following decades brought many more civic projects and lots of awards for our club. A certificate of merit was awarded in 1953 by Garden Glories for outstanding effort in the Garden Center at Wheaton Library. In 1966 the club became very involved in Hamilton Park, once located across the street from the post office (now gone, replaced by condos). This project was spearheaded by Berry Pierce and included a fountain, brick wall and plantings. It was maintained, with much difficulty, by the club, “through the trauma of drought, (no water source) monsoon rains, bicycle tracks and vandalism, sinister piles of uprooted bindweed roots, by faithful members like Barbara Turley whose tool shed was the trunk of her car.”
The club donated time and talent to the Marianjoy facility and planted gardens at schools and the Central DuPage Hospital. Fifteen hundred irises were planted at the Convalescent Center, a border of 150 feet! Arbor Day always brought a huge civic response as members year after year sold seedlings to Wheaton school children. Imagine seeing “Alice Woodward and Edna Atten standing in the rain on Arbor Day helping school children choose twigs for the yards, in exchange for the dimes clenched in grubby fists”.
DID WE LOVE FLOWER SHOWS!
Of course flower s continued to be a prominent part of our club with members competing throughout the Chicago area. An early show given outdoors on the west side of Morton Arboretum brought an award for our club as members planted a dear little spring garden with a rustic fence. Member Zifforah Snydacker related how she assembled her 1944 Marshall Fields display on hands and knees after partying too much the night before. She of course won the purple ribbon. There were shows of the Stevens Hotel, McCormick Place, the DuPage County Fairgrounds, the Field Museum, the Prudential Building to mention a few. In the 1960’s WGC entered three standard flower shows a year!
Our members received bounteous awards and ribbons for their creations including: Bev Harris who won a Tri-color ribbon for Best in Show and the Bronze Award of Distinction in 1963. Caroline Jacobsen, in 1967, won seven blue ribbons for her horticulture entries; (she was then known of the Mark Spitz of the club). Yvonne Burt was rewarded for her roses and arrangements. Fran Broker and Mary Tweedie spent weeks creating their own ceramic service plates for their table entry in 1966. Our club also boasted many Nationally Accredited Flower Show Judges including Jeanette Liebal, Bev Harris, Mary Leber and Ginny Mraz. The tradition continues with our newly accredited judges Karen Gazarek and Saundra Stephens.
THE PRAIRIE PATH
The Chicago, Aurora and Elgin Railroad ceased operations in 1959. The Wheaton Garden Club had benefited from its transportation of flowers and gifts in the city and had responded by planting for years along its tracks. Now, with imagination and determination on the part of many, including members of our club and in particular, Louise Headen, the road bed became the famed Prairie Path. Our club has continually been at the forefront of environmental causes, a major position of the Garden Club and has been a constant supporter of the Prairie Path.
WHAT A TALENTED GROUP
Many of the monthly programs were presented by garden club members. They ranged from fresh and dried arrangements to landscaping and even the joy of bats. Yvonne Burt, director of horticulture for Wheaton won the Ladybird Johnson Keep America Beautiful Award. She was instrumental in the 1970 renovation of Adam’s park, a project the club supported with labor and money. Our fundraiser for the park took us into the Age of Aquarius with a flower show entitles “Flowerscope,” featuring zodiac categories (far out). In 1982, Henri Tweedie received the Dorothy Kramer Award for stimulating interest in the environment for her work on prairie identification and restoration, in particular St. Stephen’s prairie in Carol Stream.
THE MORE THINGS CHANGE THE MORE THEY STAY THE SAME
It was not until 1972 that the formal title “Mrs. Husband’s Name” was dropped at meetings in favor of more informal first names. In 1982, it was eliminated from the yearbook. However, the format of the club remains the same, a limited number of members (up to 40) to meet in member’s homes, with tea a part of almost every meeting. (As Karen Gazarek says, “I may be up to my knees in mud all day but once a month I feel like a lady with a cup of tea.”) But, long gone are the elaborate high teas, the servants, and the later catered teas served by Velma Edwards in her starched waitress uniform.
Contributions to the Wheaton Library have also remained a constant. In 1927, Mrs. Pittsford, wife of the mayor began a section devoted to horticulture literature. This section has expanded through the years with our donation of gardening books in memoriam for the passing of our beloved members. We have provided fresh flowers and plants to beautify the circulation desk and have received many compliments for adding that touch of green.
Our club’s yearbook was once a committee project with a different cover designed yearly by Ziffie Snydacker. Eventually the idea of a wreath stuck and in 1953 Merle Maxwell executed the current design which has become our symbol. After 1990 we added botanical art by Henri Tweedie, Elaine Fairbanks and Marge Nicholas. The computer age has simplified the production of the yearbook which now takes a dedication of one computer literate member to produce. (Thank you Debbie Kennedy!)
Those Christmas Favors
Finally, the long running project of Christmas candy favors. Theses favors were distributed to children’s agencies, hospitals and nursing homes.
Much time and effort went into the acquisition of empty frozen juice cans which were then cleverly disguised as candy holders. One year the minutes proudly reports a surplus of 150 cans but a few years later there was a horrifying shortage of 150 cans. Our members and their families must have consumed a lot of orange juice in those years! According to Caroline Jacobsen, someone finally found a substitute, freeing the club from the “nightmare of the juice cans.” Our club continues to make these holiday treats with 300 delivered just last year.
AN UPDATE – THE LAST 15 YEARS
The 65th Anniversary Luncheon
Fittingly, our members celebrated the 65th anniversary of the Wheaton Garden Club at the Chicago Golf Club, the scene of many earlier WGC functions. “The heavens were smiling, the temperature was in the eighties and everyone attending wore “festive garb”. There was wine, laughter and lots of photos. President Jo Mignin welcomed the President of the Garden Clubs of Illinois, the National Council President and our District II Director, Audrey Wilson who later joined WGC and is now our current president! Eleven past and present presidents were honored with corsages of violets.
The 1990’s saw the club continue our work on Christmas projects, of course the candy favors but also trimming the downtown Wheaton Christmas trees and decorating a room for the CDH Christmas House Walk. This project was always a lot of fun, using our creativity and amazing arranging skills so that we always thought our houses were the nicest.
The Christmas tree trimming was a yearly project that ended in 2004. Through the years hundreds and hundreds of red bows were made to decorate small Christmas trees throughout the downtown. Many a member bonded on those cold sometimes miserable days. In 2001 alone 3000 bows were put on 77 trees!
We celebrated Arbor Day by separating and bagging hundreds of saplings to distribute to Wheaton school children. It’s a lovely thought that many of Wheaton’s beautiful trees originated with our club, through the hands of children.
THE PLANT SALE
During the presidency of Caroline Jacobsen we began our primary fundraiser, the plant sale, with Jan Reed heading the committee. It started small, (though we did make $657 that first year, 1992) but has grown through the years. We have had the dedicated leadership of Jan, Barbara Goble, Audrey Wilson, Laurie Bonucci, Joanne Krynicki (the mother of our current chairman, Holly Collier), and Kellie DiLeonardi. We sold plants for two years with the Hawthorne Garden Club and then in conjunction with Wheaton schools. We have sold plants in a deluge, and plants in the cold but we have also had our share of perfect spring days. To see the baskets and flats of flowers spread before us in a stunning array makes us feel once again the joy the beauty of flowers can bring and why we love them so. (Back to the deluge, everyone vividly remembers that day; soaked to the bone, but what troopers we were.)
The money produced from the plant sale enabled us to increase our donations to worthy causes. Throughout the last fifteen years we have donated to the Prairie Path, Wheaton Drama, Lincoln Marsh, Cosley Animal Farm, Memorial Park, COD, Garden Club of Illinois Scholarship Fund, Mayslake, Wheaton History Garden, Wheaton Library, St. Stephen’s Cemetery and Willowbrook butterfly garden. Our contribution to the Sterling Morton Library helped restore the 12 volume work Pacific Railroad Surveys 1853-55. We have supported many worthy horticulture students at COD with our scholarships.
(We do enjoy a good party!)
Men’s night was a popular feature for years and a particularly memorable one too place at the home of Beverly and Michael Coltart in 1994. The setting was gorgeous; there were round tables set with white floor length table cloths and decorated with ivy. They were arranged under a white tent, surrounded by peonies in an all white garden in the Coltart’s secluded back yard. Cocktails were served, a wonderful buffet was enjoyed, and a speaker presented a program, which proceeded to put almost every one of the men to sleep! The last such event was held in 1999, a garden party at the casino building at Chicago Golf. The evening included a talk by Ed Tweedie on Chicago Golf Club (which we hope better held the men’s attention) and ended with dancing.
Our annual spring luncheon is a time to show off culinary talents and enjoy each other’s company. Hats of all varieties were a part of the 1993 luncheon. Awards were given for the most elegant, the most unique and the oldest hat. There were even hat centerpieces! In honor of WGC’s 70th anniversary, a beautiful formal event was held in the home of Elaine Fairbanks: Lovely weather, wonderful food, accomplished by the music of a talented harpist. It was apropos location for the anniversary, just down the road from the House of the Seven Gables where Wheaton Garden Club was founded.
A Day at Cantigny
President Betsy Behrenhausen was hostess of an amazing afternoon at Cantigny. Members were whisked by golf carts to the McCormick mansion. There we stepped back into a more genteel and privileged time as tea was served to us on the south porch overlooking the magnificent grounds. We certainly felt the part in our dresses, hats and gloves (yes, Jo Mignon had to dig out that hat again which she still has – waiting for the next “hat” event). It was simply an enchanted day!
Education and Environment
President Ester Webster (1994-96) added education chairman to the board to take advantage of institutions, facilities and programs available in our area. The first Education and Environment Chairman Elaine Fairbanks kept the club will informed about classes, programs and volunteer opportunities at Cantigny, Morton Arboretum, Field Museum and many other places. She was followed by Beverly Coltart who published her own “Environment and Education Newsletter”, chocked full of up to date on many subjects. We have been dully warned about the dangers of buckthorn, crabapple fungus, garlic mustard, purple loosestrife, gypsy moths, pesticides and the joys of fertilizing with cricket crap.
The History Garden
In 1996, then president, Henri Tweedie was approached about developing and maintaining a garden at the Wheaton History Center. Under first chairman Cheryl Webber’s direction a lovely perennial garden has developed which has added so much to the charm of the Victorian house. Dedicated members have planted, watered, weeded, deadheaded and put that garden through the years. The Center has been sincerely appreciative and has honored us with many awards for our work. The current chair and gardener is our co-president, Nancy Shorney.
President Barbara Goble took the club to a lovely luncheon at our most unusual location, the Columbia Yacht club, a boat docked at Monroe Harbor in Chicago. Gardening and water were brought together by our speaker from the Army Corps of Engineers who gave a very informative talk about native plants for wet areas.
Throughout the years WGC has been fortunate to have multi-talented members willing to present programs. In 1999 an amazing presentation was given by Beverly Coltart, recently back from Singapore. She greeted members dressed as a Singapore Airline’s stewardess. While sipping Singapore slings and jasmine tea in authentic Chinese cups, Beverly fascinated us with tales of her travels. She demonstrated how to tie a sarong and gave each of us one to try. The grand finale was Beverly, dressed in a full lion mask, dancing the lion dance as is done for Chinese New Year.
Since then we have enjoyed numerous member presentations. Mary Anne Sweeny showed us how to make darling tussie mussies; Henri Tweedie inspired us with an artist’s tour of Monet’s garden at Giverny, Monda Lautenschlager took us to Holland and Caroline Jacobsen taught us, or rather tried to teach us Korean brush painting. While living in Korea she studied with a master painter. For many years, Jenatte Liebal and Dev Harris took on the task of preparing us for the flower shows. Karen Gazarek photographed member’s gardens, at different times of the year, presenting the slides to us with the question “Guess who’s garden?” Karen demonstrated that we all have the same flowers and plants available to us but it is how we put them together take makes each garden so unique and reflects our personalities.
And So Much More
We have excellent professionals in our area available to us for programs. Many have been related to the art of flower arranging for our personal use and for the standard flower shows. There have been horticultural programs on trees, butterfly gardens, landscape design, aquascapes, annuals and perennials. We learned about recycling, pesticide free lawns, how to shop environmentally. There were cooking classes, and demonstrations of pottery, weaving, drawing… I could go on and on. Let’s just say our club has been well educated and entertained.
THE FLOWER SHOWS CONTINUE
We continued the tradition of standard flower shows but with an every other year schedule. The 1991, ’93 and ’95 flower shows were held at Chicago Golf Club. 1991, a celebration of our 65thyear was jokingly called the “social security show.” It was under the leadership of two club stalwarts, Jeannette Liebal and Alice Woodward.
The 1993 show entitled “Harvest” turned into a mighty cold event when the heat was accidentally turned off. CGC offered to host the following show for free, which was then appropriately named “Prelude to Winter.” When one exhibit failed to arrive in time, resourceful members grabbed the centerpiece and entered it. Marge Nicholas had an outstanding arrangement in the “Trick or Treat” category incorporating a mask and spider webs.
We moved to Cantigny in 1997 for “Fairways”. The historical significance of returning to the estate of founding member Amy McCormick was noted. One spectacular arrangement was designed by artist Mary Tweedie who had a way of painting a picture with flowers.
1999 was the first of 3 shoes at the Wheaton Public Library, a great venue for the public to see our flower artistry. “Pages, Petals and Plants” featured categories named after books such as The Good Earth and A Children’s Garden of Verses. Audrey Wilson won best of show for her entry “Color in the Garden”, a monochromatic design in apricot. Barbara Goble had a sweet 5 inch miniature set in a nut shell, entitled “Thumbelina”.
Are 2001 show has been named “America the Beautiful” before the events of September 11th but now took on a new significance. One standout was Saundra Stephen’s interpretation of the Lewis and Clark expedition, using a interesting wooden container, with sprouting branches symbolizing rivers, sunflowers and golden rod.
“Travel Around the World” evoked the world of flowers. Betsy Behrenhausen’s via la France focused on French cuisine and incorporated carrots and pears in the design. Best in Show was a miniature designed by Edna Oldfield who used a film box as a container and created tiny flowers with film. It was entitled “Photo Op”.
Our last standard show at the Wheaton Community Center was “Picnic in the Park” and highlighted Wheaton parks and activities. Karen Gazarek used jump rope, twining through the arrangement for her line design. Saundra Stephen’s “Campfire” used a stunning base echoing burnt wood with fire red gladiolas. One could almost feel the fire. Holly Collier charmed everyone with her creation of a fox’s den.
All of these shows featured horticultural entries with repeat winners and standout specimens from many members especially, Bev Harris, Elaine Fairbanks and Caroline Jacobsen.
OUR TALENTED AND GIVING MEMBERS
Artists abound in flower arranging and traditional mediums. Henrietta Tweedie is botanical illustrator and past president, who incidentally is the sister-in-law of Joy Tweedie Olson, past president, and the daughter-in-law of Alice Tweedie, past president and founding member. Henri has been a member of WGC since 1955! Marge Nicholas has graciously illustrated many of our functions with exquisite watercolors. Her poster for the 2005 flower show was a fabulous creation of animals strolling through a park. Caroline Jacobsen and Carol Lathrop are master gardeners. Elaine Fairbanks is a Rare Print Registrar at the Morton Arboretum, working with a collection of over 8,000 prints, primarily botanicals. She has faithfully collected Stamps on behalf of our club to forward to the Audubon Society since 1990. This is an Audubon fundraiser for the preservation of nature trails.
The Wheaton Garden Club is proud of its philanthropic endeavors. During the presidency of Saundra Stephens, our club was awarded the Spirit of Downtown Wheaton Award and the Vern Kiebler Award for service to the history center. Our members individual volunteer efforts are too numerous to mention.
THE CLUB CONTINUES
Throughout the years we have continued to receive purple and blue rosettes, Blue Ribbons of Achievement Awards and gold certificates from the Garden Club of Illinois. Our club continues to prosper and the awards just keep on coming!
Times have indeed changed in many many ways since 1925. Our club is no longer the center of the society column. We no longer visit each other’s estates for meetings and tea. (Though we continue to visit both Cantigny and the Arboretum but as paying guests!) Yes, times have changed but our continuous record of service has not. We continue to be women who deeply care about our community, our environment, our club and in particular the individual members of our club. A few names are mentioned in this history but all members have played a vital part. Together we have contributed to a wonderful thing, the Wheaton Garden Club! And we do love our flowers!
Respectfully submitted April 12, 2007
A note of thanks first to the author of Fifty years of Flowering with the Wheaton Garden Club, Marion Dugan (who reportedly retired to California and was president of the Screen Mother’s Guild) and to Fran Brocker, who wrote the 65th Anniversary account. I appreciated firsthand accounts of WGC from Henri Tweedie, Jo Mignin, Caroline Jacobsen, Bev Harris, Elaine Fairbanks, Audrey Wilson, Karen Garzarek and Holly Collier. I hope I got things close to right. I joked that some of your stories need to go into an “alternative history” of the club. And to Jo Mignin for giving me cup after cup of coffee while I looked through the scrapbooks. I have truly enjoyed discovering the amazing history of our club and getting to know the phenomenal women from the past and now the present of Wheaton Garden Club.
The Wheaton Garden Club
“Beautiful homes, beautiful gardens, beautiful flowers, beautiful women all belong together”.
Mrs. Warren Piper president of the Wheaton Garden Club, 1938
“In 1933 the President’s Luncheon for the Garden Clubs of Illinois was given in this very room. Yes, our group was the hostess club, and ladies came here to Chicago Golf Club from all over the state. Cost of the luncheon? Seventy-five cents a plate!”
From Fifty Years of Flowering with the Wheaton Garden Club
Mary Margaret Horsley
Yvonne Burt Simpson