In Memoriam: H. Edward Reiley
Mason-Dixon Chapter, ARS
H. Edward Reiley, past president of the American Rhododendron Society and 2004 recipient of the Society's Gold Medal, died Sunday, March 16, 2008, at his home near Woodsboro, Maryland.
Ed Reiley was many things, but from his early days an interest in gardening was always a strong presence in his life. He often talked about starting his first garden when he was 5 years old. He also said that his hobbies always got out of hand. Fortunately for gardeners, and especially rhododendron lovers, gardening remained one of these hobbies. Ed earned a BS in Horticulture in 1951 from the University of Maryland and returned for an MS in Agricultural Economics in 1967.
During the Korean War, Ed trained as a fighter pilot with the United States Air Force. As the war was winding down, he transferred to the 575th Installation Squadron stationed at Selfridge Air Force Base, near Mount Clemens, Michigan. That was where he met the young lady who would become his wife. After his Air Force tour was over, Ed married Mary Dunkelberg, and they returned to Frederick County, Maryland, where they raised four children.
Ed was employed by the Frederick County Board of Education, teaching in the classroom before moving on to supervisory positions. He was a major force in expanding educational opportunities in the county, playing a key role in the development of the Frederick County Career and Technology Center and starting the Evening High School Program, where he served as the first principal. He was Maryland's Vocational Educator of the Year in 1978 and retired as Frederick County's Director of Vocational Education in 1981.
Although retired from the school system, Ed continued to share his knowledge. His books Success with Rhododendrons and Azaleas (Timber Press, revised edition, 2004) and Ortho's All About Azaleas, Camellias, & Rhododendrons (Ortho, 2001) helped spread his love of rhododendrons throughout the world. He reached even more people through Introductory Horticulture (Delmar Learning, 7th edition, 2006), written with Carroll L. Shry, Jr. This textbook is used in high school and college classes worldwide.
In retirement, Ed and Mary began Reiley Ridge Nursery in Woodsboro in 1981. For the next twenty-five years, the nursery supplied field-grown rhododendrons and azaleas on both the wholesale and retail level throughout the Baltimore-Washington region. One of their major customers was The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission which made numerous purchases for Brookside Gardens, the McCrillis Gardens, and a number of other parks and public golf courses.
Many of the plants that the nursery grew were evaluated in the Reileys' garden. The garden is more than four acres, filled with over a thousand rhododendrons and numerous deciduous and evergreen azaleas. Many of the rhododendrons are more than thirty years old, reaching 12 to 15 feet. They are in flower from early April until mid-June, and the garden was one of the highlights of the 2006 ARS/ASA Convention tour.
In 1969, Ed and Mary joined the American Rhododendron Society. Originally members of the Potomac Valley Chapter, they were among the founders of a new chapter in central Maryland in 1981. Ed served on the first board of directors of the Mason-Dixon Chapter and was its third president in 1985-1987, receiving the chapter's Bronze Medal in 1987. In 1988, he and Mary prepared the first handbook for chapter members, and they began the chapter newsletter the following year. They continued to edit the newsletter into the ‘90s, when the press of national business began to take over.
In 1988, Ed became the alternate director for District 9, moving up to District Director in 1991. Working with Wayne Mezitt, the chairman of the Education Committee, he wrote the pamphlets "Rhododendrons & Azaleas: A Guide To Planting & Care" and "The Fundamentals of Rhododendron and Azalea Culture." In 1997, Ed became the Eastern Vice-President of the ARS. While serving as president from 2001-2003, he led the way in establishing the Rhododendron of the Year program to help bring more visibility to the genus. At his death he was co-chair of the Plant Awards Committee.
Even while he was playing a role in ARS national affairs, Ed remained active on the local level, speaking at various Mason-Dixon Chapter meetings and leading numerous workshops. He was also in great demand as a speaker and judge, both by ARS chapters and other garden groups who wished to take advantage of his knowledge and good humor. He was the long-time auctioneer for the Mason-Dixon Chapter. His encyclopedic knowledge of rhododendrons was particularly valuable at the annual cutting auction. He also helped to organize the Mason-Dixon Chapter Hybridizers Group in 2005.
When his term as national president was over, Ed became more intensely involved in hybridizing, an activity that had been put on the back burner while serving on the national level. Among his goals was producing a yellow elepidote that could stand the wide climatic variations in the mid-Atlantic region. Currently, there are a number of promising hybrids from his endeavors being evaluated in Ed and Mary's garden.
Ed Reiley was many things - a husband and father, grandfather and great-grandfather, a dedicated educator, a nurseryman, an author, a life-long gardener and a man with a great sense of humor. For his many friends in the American Rhododendron Society, particularly in the Mason-Dixon Chapter though, he was just "Ed," a great friend always willing to help out in any way, whether by simply answering a question or by rooting a particularly difficult cultivar. We have lost a great friend and a heck of a nice guy. He will be sorely missed.