Founding of the Massachusetts Chapter of A. R. S.
Elinor Clarke, Ashfield, Massachusetts
Reprinted from the Rosebay Newsletter of the Massachusetts Chapter
FIG. 39. Initial gathering of charter members of the Massachusetts
Chapter on October 3, 1970, included, from left to right,
Jon Shaw, Ed Mezitt, Wally Mezitt, Fred Schumacher
and Eleanor Famesi. (Mrs. Famesi's daughter in dark
In May 1968 Horticulture published an article titled "Rhododendrons for Today and Tomorrow" by one David G. Leach. In October of that same year Horticulture published another article by this same man, intriguingly titled "Beauty and the Beast."
This second article, coupled with the first, resulted in my writing to this stranger in appreciation, not only of his thinking but also of his choice of word and turn of phrase. Pragmatically I could not resist inquiring where I could obtain a plant of the Rhododendron 'Mist Maiden' he had mentioned in the May article.
The reply came by return mail, "I have nothing but very small plants of yakushimanum 'Mist Maiden' but I am sending you one with my compliments." Certainly unrealized by either of us at that time, this sentence contained the germ of the Massachusetts Chapter.
I could not help noticing the middle name of David Goheen Leach as spelled out on his letterhead. Having been brought up on tales of the legendary prowess of "Dr. Goheen of India" by my mother, whose father was his colleague, I could not resist inquiring as to the origin of his middle name.
He wrote back, "I am emphatically related to the Dr. Goheen of India. He was my grandfather's brother, I believe. There were droves of Goheen missionaries in southeastern Asia, some of them doctors ... Another of my grandfather's brothers was a medical missionary in Siam. His hobby was economics. When the king (of "Anna and the King of Siam") decided he wanted a monetary system exchangeable on world markets, he asked this Goheen to do it. The king was so pleased with the result that he made him the country's first secretary of the treasury and so he remained, with an office in the palace for the remainder of his life. When I was in Thailand several years ago, my middle name appeared on my passport, and I got the red carpet treatment in a lavish fashion. After all of these years, the name is still known in Bangkok, and Dr. Goheen's office is still preserved in the palace."
I quote this at length hoping it will be read by the ARS colleague who said, "Funny, I never thought of David Leach as having missionary blood!"
In the fall of 1969 Dr. Leach wrote, on the subject of rhododendrons, "I think it would be very useful if you would set up your records so that you could report on the climatic adaptability of the rhododendrons you are growing. I would suggest that you adopt a system of 1 to 5 for the winter injury range. You might use 1 for bud loss, 2 for branch injury, 3 for split bark and branch injury, 4 for severe general injury and 5 for death or some such. You would relate this to the winter low temperature, prolonged low temperature, low temperature and high wind, low temperature and high wind plus bright sunlight or any other unusual climatic condition. It would probably also be useful to report on your propagating results with the various rhododendrons you are growing. I imagine you have already recorded the source, size and year of acquisition of the plants you have bought. If you have more than one plant of a species, each should be numbered.
"I think the American Rhododendron Society ought to be the repository of such information, which would doubtless publish it for the guidance of others. I wonder if you know there is a Connecticut Chapter? The secretary is Frank M. Geiser."
This resulted in my writing to Dr. Geiser and eventually being referred to Elliott Jessen, then secretary and now president of that Chapter and was a national member through that Chapter for one year, until the Massachusetts Chapter was formed, continuing with the Connecticut Chapter as an associate.
On November 5,1969 Dr. Leach wrote me. "There is no requirement for organizing a Chapter of the American Rhododendron Society. All it takes is an interested group willing to go to the trouble, plus the potential of enough additional members to make the Chapter viable. As a matter of fact, I have often wondered why no chapter exists in Massachusetts. To my knowledge, at least a few people journey all the way down to New York to attend meetings of the New York Chapter. With the potential of the Boston area, it really should be quite easy to organize a Massachusetts chapter. But someone has to take the lead and do it. I nominate you."
So I sent for the most recent national ARS membership list and sent letters to all who were national members living in the Massachusetts area and also to Massachusetts residents who were members of other area chapters, having first written the secretaries of those chapters for their approval.
On May 8, 1970 Mrs. Eleanor Famosi of Westford, Mass., sent a check asking whether it would be possible for her to join the Massachusetts Chapter. Since the Chapter did not have a treasurer or any organization whatsoever, I wondered just what to do with her check. It even occurred to me to return it. That temptation was soon overcome. I told myself, "I hereby appoint you treasurer pro-tem and direct you to open a savings bank account."
Soon the Chapter had a steering committee: F. W. Schumacher of Sandwich, George MacKinnon of Waquoit, Dr. Alfred Kaiser of Hatfield, Donald Marvin of Mattapoisett, Charles Trommer of Rehoboth and Carlton Lees of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society. This committee never actually met but accomplished all the work by mail or by telephone, as well as some personal visits.
The truth of Dr. Leach's words was beginning to be amply borne out: "It does appear that there is more than ample potential in the population of the state and more than ample motivation in the nation's oldest and most sophisticated horticultural environment...You have in Massachusetts two of the great, classic collections of rhododendrons; there is the Hunnewell collection at Wellesley and the Dexter collection at Sandwich...There is a rather well-known hybridizer on Cape Cod, whose first name is Tony. Jack Cowles at Sandwich has hybridized on rather a large scale. He would probably be a good collaborator for the eastern part of the state."
Leach also wrote, "I have a hunch that if you addressed Carlton Lees at Mass. Hort. he might print a squib in his horticultural news column, and I think that would be most valuable of all." Lees did this, and generally took to the task like an enthusiastic midwife. It was his idea to hold the opening meeting at the Heritage Plantation of Sandwich.
We had just one choice of speaker. When we approached Dr. Leach on this subject, he said, "I cannot really say that I want or welcome speaking engagements. I do it, I think, because of an evangelical conviction that the angels are on the side of gardening, and I should aid and abet them, maybe even prod them a little bit."
When we put the actual question, in January 1970, Dr. Leach wrote back, "Certainly I would be willing to give a talk for your new-born Massachusetts Chapter." Carlton Lees' reaction was that it would be another thing to arrive at an exact date. So I telephoned Dr.
Leach and he said, How about October 10? No, that's the day I fly to Australia; it had better be October 3." (In the end he did not go to Australia, as he was made president-elect of the American Horticultural Society).
Correspondence that spring and summer was brisk indeed. F. W. Schumacher wrote that he very much wanted Dr. Leach to see his Hill in bloom and note what he had accomplished in the fifteen or twenty years since he had been there last. This was set up for the Sunday morning following the Saturday at Heritage.
The initial gathering of the chapter, members and potential members, was set for 10 a.m. on Saturday, October 3, 1970 at the Ashumet Reservation of the Massachusetts Audubon Society, as Dr. Leach had written, "I have a recollection of a holly collection, either in Sandwich or nearby, which could be well-berried."
The 3rd of October dawned bright and clear. Ten o'clock saw a number of people arriving at Ashumet. Following the tour of Ashumet and lunch, Heman Howard, then in capacity as consultant at Heritage Plantation, led a tour of the grounds, which were in top condition under the direction of Nelson Price who had been outstanding in his cooperation.
Dr. Leach's talk on "Rhododendrons: What's New? What's Good?" certainly was an eye-opener for all who thought they knew something about rhododendrons. It was the perfect inspiration for the establishment of the Chapter. Many is the time we have wished we could hear it again in the light of subsequent experience.