The Beginning Year of the A.R.S.
By Rudolph Henny
The passing of the year 1955 marked the first decade of the founding of the American Rhododendron Society. One might question the necessity of recording those few incidents relating to the very first organizational moves of the Society but even at this early date, with the passing of only ten years, some of the dates, facts, and personalities are almost lost in the haze of passing events relating to this short period.
During the A.R.S. Show Portland, 1955 I met George Grace, and E. R. Peterson while the judges were at work and we were awaiting their decisions. During this short visit it was suggested to me The Editor to recount the story of the founding of the Society.
The founding members that met at the home of E. R. Peterson in June 1944 on the day of the great invasion of Europe by allied forces were the following: E. R. Peterson who had started a fine collection of azaleas, and hybrid rhododendrons as early as 1929, George Grace, who at that date probably had the finest collection of new hybrids, W. G. Tucker whose fine garden contained many large plants, H. H. Harms whose large garden was one of the very best in the area, John Bacher that great horticulturist, John Henny nurseryman, and collector, and Rudolph Henny.
Any notes or minutes of this very first meeting are now non-existent, but it was agreed at this meeting that this newly formed group be known as "The Rhododendron Society." It was agreed to meet only four times a year, and the officers elected at this date were: John Henny, President; George Grace, Secretary; and E. R. Peterson, Treasurer. John Bacher declined the vice presidency. The late W. G. Tucker was extended the honor of having membership card number one on the membership list. It was also agreed that evening to have the first public meeting in September. In the meantime both large Portland dailies were given the story of the new organization and summarily articles appeared in the Garden Sections of both. In September of that year less than forty persons attended the first meeting in the Auditorium of the Public Service Building in Portland.
The two great national gardening magazines, "The Flower Grower" on the East coast, and "Sunset" on the west coast mentioned the formation of this Society and almost immediately applications for membership were received from many States. In a few months after this first public meeting the membership was well over one hundred and fifty members.
The following year 1945 "The Oregon Journal," long interested in local gardening and gardening groups underwrote the cost of incorporating the new group into The American Rhododendron Society and as a gift from the publishers proffered a large tract of un-cleared land as a site for a rhododendron park. I have always felt badly that this wonderful spot on the west hills near the Medical School had not been developed. Other members who had had more experience with the cost of plantings and the upkeep of such a venture sadly shook their heads. Eventually some exploratory work was done on a volunteer basis by some members, but the rough terrain, and lack of water or adequate fencing soon made the effort appear futile. Later with the development of the present fine garden at Crystal Springs Island I was to learn just what the cost of a large garden could entail. Were it not for such generous donors as our president C. I. Sersanous who has contributed thousands of dollars and other members also, even this garden of about ten acres would not be a reality today.
The first yearbook of the group was published in 1945 with Dean Collins editor of the gardening section of the Journal as Editor. The year 1945 saw the membership grow to such an extent that meetings were held in the Auditorium of one of the large grade schools. Late in 1945 the group decided to hold meetings on a monthly basis, with the exception of the summer months.
Most members are familiar with the growth of the Society and its recent activities and this narrative will stop with year 1945, but to the early officers of the group who spent a great deal of time and money the thanks and praise of the entire Society are herewith extended.