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ON THE SCENE: Garden club 85 and growing strong

May 18, 2018
By NAJ WIKOFF , Lake Placid News

For 85 years, the Garden Club of Lake Placid has been beautifying the streets, homes and shorelines of their community.

On Wednesday, May 9, club members held an afternoon tea in the Wikoff Room of the Mirror Lake Inn to celebrate their accomplishments, renew friendships and set their sights on another 85 years. The occasion was graced with a framed proclamation presented by Lake Placid Mayor Craig Randall, and signed by him and North Elba town Supervisor Roby Politi, and a short recital performed by Helen Demong and two of her outstanding students.

The Garden Club is a seasonal affair as the majority of their work is accomplished during the spring, summer and fall - the growing season of the year. Their mission is to inspire, educate and uplift people through beautifying the community and making it more welcoming for residents and visitors alike. They provide educational workshops to strengthen skills in all aspects of gardening and floral display and encourage people to get involved, be it through plantings on their own properties or participating in Garden Club activities.

Article Photos

Lake Placid Mayor Craig Randall, back center, honors past presidents of the Garden Club of Lake Placid with a proclamation commemorating the club’s 85th anniversary.
(Provided photo — Naj Wikoff)

"I like the Garden Club's commitment to the town," said Ginny Bartlett, a past president and a member since 1996. "What I really like now is seeing so many new and young people coming in. It's rejuvenating itself. When I was new to town, I was looking for a way to meet people. The best thing I ever did was to join the Garden Club, where I've met so many wonderful people. Mary Bigelow, also new to town, and I joined at the same time, became best friends and both have been very active."

Clearly the members enjoy each other's company and working together on projects. Equally clear is that they are not all master gardeners, and their level of experience is broad. Thus, no matter one's skill at growing plants, people are welcome to join. Also nice is the range of ages; the Garden Club seeks and has been attracting members from young adults on up. What's required is a desire to learn, share what one knows, and a willingness to pull weeds and plant flowers.

"I've been a member ever since I moved to town in 1989," said Judy Shea. "I joined because I like to garden; I came from a family of gardeners."

Joining the Garden Club also means signing up for one or more projects, such as maintaining the flower garden in the triangle of land down by the North Elba Show Grounds where state Route 73 and Old Military Road intersect. There are other projects along Main Street and about town. In the past, they've decorated empty store front windows, and some members present workshops on differing aspects of gardening. President Joan Donaldson, who joined in 2014, is a case in point and also illustrates that membership is not restricted to people living in Lake Placid-North Elba as her home is in Saranac Lake.

One of Joan's many friends, Sally Stoerr, suggested she join the club and attend one of their events, which was a presentation about monarch butterflies.

"The next thing I knew, I was a member and on a committee," said Joan. "And once I was on the committee, she dropped off. I said to Sally, I know that trick. I've done that before myself. And then I was on the program committee for a couple years, then I became the vice president, and now president."

The Garden Club was founded on Sept. 10, 1933 at Red Gables, the home of Mrs. Wilton L. (Edna) Bernstein on Lake Placid. Joining her were Mrs. Milton L. Bernstein, elected as president; Mrs. George C. Owens, vice president; Mrs. H.H. Epstein, secretary; Mrs. Henry (Mildred Mids) Uihlein, treasurer; Mrs. Raymond C. (Mary) Prime, membership chairperson; and Mrs. Louise Hammer, horticulture chairperson. Unfortunately, the first names of most of the women were not listed in the Lake Placid News article about the establishment of the club, and thus they are asking anyone who knows the first names of any of the founding women to contact them, or me through the Lake Placid News, and we'll pass it on.

The club quickly took off, attracting 50 members by 1934, 150 in 1935, and 199 by the end of 1936. In 1937, they had raised more than $900 for the Lake Placid Hospital (the equivalent of nearly $17,000 today) and rolled up their sleeves to paint the Lake Placid Library, install flower boxes and shutters, and plant their grounds - an impressive accomplishment in the midst of the Great Depression. They didn't stop there. They took on improving the grounds around the Olympic Arena, sponsored flower and vegetable garden competitions, and more.

Fundamentally, the Garden Club used "flower power" to lift the spirits of the community and to make the village as welcoming as possible during one the darkest periods in our nation's history. As a way of understanding the value of the plantings and flowers throughout the village, imagine if the Mirror Lake Inn and other properties were not graced with the beautiful gardens and plantings on their grounds. Imagine how empty and forlorn the community would feel if the many hanging baskets along Main Street were removed, as well as the countless other plantings throughout the village were gone.

Today, the founding purpose of the Garden Club has been augmented by the efforts of the Lake Placid Beautification Association, North Elba Park District, and the many individuals and businesses that invest in their own properties. Together, they help our community put its best foot forward. Even so, the club's mission to educate, inspire, and beautify the community remains vital as does the fun and camaraderie of being with so many positive can-do people.

"Those ladies in 1933 planted a garden, and their garden is getting ready to send up new growth again this spring," said Joan. "Has their garden evolved and changed as we know gardens do? Absolutely, gardens change from season to season. Is the garden they planted 85 years ago beautiful and still growing?"

If you look at ongoing efforts by the Garden Club members and others to beautify our community, volunteers cleaning village roadsides this past weekend, and observe those who are out planting flowers in the triangle and flower boxes along the street, the answer has to be a resounding yes.

Here's to another 85 years, and a big thank you from this columnist. Or as Joan said to the members, "To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow."

Members of the Garden Club more than just believe in tomorrow; they give of their time, talent and energy to make that tomorrow as loving, uplifting, and welcoming as possible.



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