Eugene Chapter of the American Rhododendron Society
The Eugene Chapter was formed in 1951 when the Eugene Men’s Camellia and Rhododendron Society decided to join the fledgling American Rhododendron Society as its third chapter. Among the 26 original members were a number of dynamic and foresighted people who lead the group in rapid expansion and brought remarkable interest in rhododendrons to the community. One of the first projects of the group was to work with the Eugene City Parks Department in establishing the rhododendron garden in Hendricks Park which, to this day, is considered one of the finest rhododendron gardens in the country. Through their efforts the flower shows that were an established activity with the group were moved to the lawn area of Hendricks Park and were well received by the community. Among these original members were Dr. Royal Gick, Merle Saunders, Del James, Marshall Lyons, Dr. Carl Phetteplace, and Dr. Robin Overstreet who were the leaders that would carry the Eugene Chapter to prominence over the next few decades.
By 1960, the chapter membership had grown to 91 and the monthly meetings had moved from being held in members’ houses to various community centers including the Skinner’s Butte Community Center. In 1961, following the annual flower show, Euan Cox was the guest speaker at the chapter dinner as he and his son, Peter, were enroute to the Portland International Rhododendron Conference. During these early days, the monthly programs attracted many well known speakers who graciously shared their knowledge in many aspects of rhododendron culture laying the tradition that continues in the ARS today. The members themselves donated plants to be auctioned that raised money for the chapter projects including the continued development of Hendricks Park.
In May of 1968 the Eugene chapter hosted its first of four ARS National Conventions. It was also at about this time that member, Dr. Milton Walker, was spearheading the movement to establish a Rhododendron Species Foundation with the goal of establishing a collection of high quality species rhododendrons and in April 1969 the first Species Show was held for the chapter at the Eugene Hotel beginning the tradition of having two spring flower shows with the April show featuring species plants.
By 1980 the interest in rhododendrons was well established with an active ARS leadership throughout the Northwest including the Eugene Chapter and in 1981 the idea for a regional conference of western chapters was spawned by Harold & Nancy Greer (Eugene), Herb & Betty Spady (Willamette), Ed & Fran Egan (Portland), and Vern & Marion May (Siuslaw). Thus, the first Western Regional Conference took place in Newport in the fall of 1981 starting a tradition that has continued since.
Over the years chapter members have produced a long line of hybrids, many of which we still grow in our gardens. Among these many members are Del & Ray James, Marshall & Ruth Lyons, Palmer Saunders, Dr. Carl Phetteplace, Art Childers, Dr. Robin Overstreet, Dr. Royal Gick, Gladys & Willard Swenson, Dr. Charles Thompson, Edgar Greer, Harold Greer, Slim Barrett, Stan Hall, Tom & Emma Bowhan, Louis Mensing, Everett Hall, Gordon Wylie, Dr. David Williams, Ralph & Frances Burns, Merle Sanders, Nolan Blansit, and Jack Olson.
Four of the chapter members have received national recognition with ARS Gold Medal Awards -
In 2011, the Eugene Chapter, as part of ARS District 4, helped to host the ARS Convention in Vancouver, WA, with a large portion of its members and associate members participating. In 2013, the Eugene Chapter helped to host the ARS Western Regional Rhododendron Conference in Newport, OR.
As with any history, it is, indeed, helpful to look back at where we have come from for us to know where we are going in the future. Eugene has been most fortunate to be located in a climate so conducive to growing rhododendrons but we also have had so many members who have contributed to the formation of a significant ARS chapter.
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