Garden Club comes to an end after 80 years

One of the long-standing traditions of the Monticello Garden Club was to plant colorful flowers at the Fountain Park. The club appreciated the city’s efforts last year is adding a walkway and more to the park. (Express file photo)

In 2009, the Garden Club was featured in the Express’ annual Home & Garden issue. From left are club members Leona Onken, Ruth Zirkelbach, Ruth Kleitsch, and Joy Adams. (Express file photo)

In 2013, the Garden Club took it upon themselves to dedicate a Blue Star Memorial at the Fountain Park. This is the only one in Jones County. (Express file photo)

These ladies were all winners at the flower show in Monticello in September 1985. Seated are Laura Montgomery and Irene Recker. Standing are Jackie Strother, Marge Stubbe, and Helen Hanson. (Express file photo)

The Garden Club’s Fall Festival in September 1961 saw over 450 people in attendance. A new feature that year was a junior division for children. (Express file photo)
Kim Brooks
Express Editor

     In 1938, the Federated Garden Club got its start in Monticello, Iowa.

     Eighty-three years later, the club has been forced to disband for various reasons, namely the health and age of its long-time dedicated members.

     The Express recently sat down with several of the Garden Club’s members to reminisce about various projects and activities through the years. These ladies also shared why they joined the Garden Club and their hopes for Monticello going into the future as Monticello Parks and Recreation prepares to take over.

     It should be noted that the Monticello Garden Club merged out of the Federated Garden Club a few years ago as membership dropped.

     “We wanted to be more independent,” said Marilyn Schneiderman.

     “And there were too many rules and regulations we had to follow,” added Rhonda Meyer of being part of the national organization.

     Those at the table recalling Garden Club memories included: Schneiderman, co-chair; Meyer, treasurer; Sharon Kell, president; Joy Adams; Marla Walters; Kathy LaMont, secretary; Julie Carlson; and Ruth Zirkelbach. Two of the club’s oldest members are Marge Stubbe and Donna Helgens.

     In 2015, Adams, with the help of many Garden Club members, put together and published a cookbook honoring the club’s 75th anniversary. Sales from the cookbook also helped to raise money for the club.

     Some history on the Garden Club…

     In 1938, Albert Stuhler, Frank Walker, and George Wilkins, all of Monticello, and Frank Royden, Scotch Grove, felt a group of women ought to come together and form a garden club for the benefit of Monticello. Mrs. Henry Carpenter was chosen to lead the group.

     Officers of that very first meeting were: Mrs. John (Leta) Matthiessen, president; Mrs. Henry Carpenter, honorary president; Mrs. John H. Fraser, first vice president; Mrs. T.M. Redmond, second vice president; Mrs. Ed Hulbregtse, secretary; and Mrs. J.J. Locher, treasurer.

     Today, the Garden Club’s main projects included planting flowers at the Fountain Park by the Aquatic Center (what used to be known as the “Y”); planting flowers in boxes in front of the Community Building, along S. Sycamore Street; and planting flowers at the entrance of the fairgrounds/city park.

     “We’re been planting flowers at the “Y” for 80 years,” noted Adams. “When I first came to town, I saw the fountain and flowers and thought this is a town that cares about what it looks like.”

     Zirkelbach recalled a funny moment when they thought they were planting 500 red tulips at the fountain. When they started to bloom, a few yellow flowers popped up.

     The red bud tree, also at the fountain, came from Zirkelbach’s family farm.

     Another memento at the fountain, a sundial, was purchased in memory of Zirkebach’s and Stubbe’s mothers.

     In the beginning and continuing the tradition for 80-plus years, each monthly meeting had a different host, a different rollcall, and different theme, and a different, and a different guest speaker. Frank Walker, a local agriculture teacher, was the club’s first speaker.

     The purpose of the Garden Club was to “further beautification of individual homes and the town itself, and to instruct in practical gardening and protection of wildlife.”

     Members were formally selected, or handpicked, through the years, much like an inclusive club. Clearly those formal rules were relaxed in recent years.

     “You really thought you were somebody if you were invited (to join the Garden Club),” laughed Zirkelbach.

     It wasn’t just women who joined, either. In recent years, some of the husbands got involved as well, whether by default or interest.

     Other than planting in three different locations in the community, the club was known for its many flower shows at the Community Building over the years.

     In 2013, the club took on a special project: the dedication of the Blue Star Memorial at Fountain Park. Blue Star Memorial projects all over the U.S. fall under the National Garden Clubs organization. They are a tribute to the armed forces.

     The club credits Helgens for her leadership with the Blue Star Marker.

     In recent years, several young people have stepped up to assist the club in their projects, something the members have so appreciated seeing. They hope the trend continues under the direction of Parks & Rec.

     COVID-19 also plagued the Garden Club due the age of its members and the need to keep everyone safe and healthy.

     Prior to the pandemic, the club took many road trips to area gardens, botanical gardens, nurseries, etc. Schneiderman recalled a trip to Lily Acres in Central City in July.

     “It is out in the boondocks,” she said. “We almost got lost.”

     “It’s fun to visit other gardens and other places,” added LaMont.

     Some joined the Garden Club out of pure interest in gardening. They said you did not have to have a green thumb to join. Some said they learned the art of gardening from long-time members such as Helgens, Stubbe, and Zirkelbach, also a Master Gardener.

     The club spent roughly $500 on plantings for 2020. Most of their money stems from membership dues and fundraisers, which also got tough during COVID. They had several members and families give memorial donations to the club throughout the years as well.

     The Garden Club also gave back to other organizations in the community such a Four Oaks, Camp Courageous, and Sleep in Heavenly Peace. They’ve also made food boxes for the holidays for the food pantry.

     “Donna (Helgens) would make bouquets and honor local banks and businesses for National Garden Club Week,” recalled Meyer.

     Once things start to open up again, the club has plans to organize a display on the history of the Garden Club at the Monticello Heritage Center.

     “It’s been nothing but good friends,” Zirkelbach said of being part of the club.

     “We still continue to check in on each other,” said Schneiderman.

     “At the flower shows, everybody pitched in with beautiful flowers. It was so amazing to see,” recalled Adams of a long-standing club tradition.

     “Our husbands loved when we had potlucks,” joked LaMont of all the good, homemade food.

     “Food and treats were a part of every meeting,” added Schneiderman.


Subscriber Login