Ben F. Lancaster, 1892-1970
The Portland Chapter - American Rhododendron Society
Fig. 40. Ben F. Lancaster
When we are asked to evaluate the accomplishments of a man's life, we often respond by thinking of the size of his material estate. This may completely ignore the main purpose and results of a whole lifetime. With courage, dignity, humor and an unselfish nature, Ben Lancaster lived his life so that his achievements may be much more accurately measured by the impact of his personality on those who knew him. His death on March 13, 1970 following an extended illness, resulted in the loss of a friend and counselor for all of us.
Ben was born in Kalamazoo, Michigan on December 7, 1892, but spent more than 50 years of his life in Camas, Washington. During his younger years, he was a builder and carpenter by trade. While recovering from an automobile accident in 1937, he was loaned a copy of Dr. Clement Bowers' excellent book on rhododendrons. This fired his imagination and he immediately came down with a chronic case of Rhododendronitis, as he would often call it with an impish grin. The auto accident left him with a severe physical handicap, but his courage and determination enabled him to create a whole new way of life and he established Lackamas Gardens in 1946.
In the following years, he became an authority in horticulture and with the help of his wife, Rose, developed many outstanding rhododendron hybrids. A charter member of the ARS, he served it as a director. The Society presented him with the Gold Medal in recognition of his work.
Along with his interest in plants, Ben maintained his life-long interest in music, poetry and writing. He was a man of many talents. An example of his writing is his article in the October 1967 Quarterly Bulletin of the ARS, Adventures in Rhododendron Hybridizing. One of his songs, How Do Gardens Grow, was adopted as the official song of the Men's Garden Clubs of America.
All plant lovers will join us in extending our most sincere sympathy to Rose Lancaster. We all have lost something in his passing.