QBARS - v32n3 American Rhododendron Society President's Address

ARS President's Address
E. C. Brockenbrough, M. D.

It is traditional at this time of the evening for the President to make a "State of the Society" address and I plan to continue this tradition and, hopefully, in as mercifully brief a fashion as possible.
What I would like to do is to review with you some of the more significant changes which have affected the Society, some of the problems we face today, and some of our hopes for the future.
As is so often the case, the most meaningful changes may be those which occur without fanfare and take place gradually over a period of years. I think it is fair to say that the last ten years have seen the ARS evolve from a predominantly regional society in the northwest to an organization which can be considered truly national, or even international in scope. Our membership and our directors and officers are fairly equally distributed between the East and the West. And we are especially pleased that we have a strong and growing overseas chapter in Denmark and that our combined overseas membership has increased by 128% in the last five years.
The system of alternating Board meetings between the East and West Coasts has produced positive results in terms of increasing communication and understanding among elements of the Society, but it has also necessitated increased commitments of time and funds by those who attend these meetings. Furthermore we have, in effect two Boards of Directors, one for each half of the country, and at either meeting the chapter president directors usually outnumber the elected directors three or four to one. Some have felt that the diminished roles of the elected directors, as well as these other problems, require a careful re-examination of the structure of the governing body and possible revisions to strengthen the roles of the elected directors, while at the same time increasing regional representation. Dr. Frank West, one of our outgoing directors, deserves much of the credit for bringing these problems out into the open.
As a result of discussion at the Seattle Board meeting in February of this year, an Ad Hoc Committee on Organization Structure was formed. Each chapter president, elected director, and national officer was asked to contribute his or her thoughts on the subject. These replies were then reviewed by the Committee to see if a consensus could be reached. The Committee met before the Directors Meeting on May 18 and discussed the various proposals in some detail. We agreed that some change was advisable but felt that it was premature to make specific recommendations at this time. The Board of Directors suggested that further discussions be held, and the Ad Hoc Committee, under the leadership of Al Martin, continue to search for possible solutions.
The Nominating Committee announced the election of four directors for three year terms, beginning in 1978. As usual the balloting was very close but those receiving the highest numbers of votes were Dr. Gustav Mehlquist, Harold Greer, Dr. L. Keith Wade and George Ring. Keith Wade was, of course, re-elected and we welcome the others as new directors.
Two key people in the Society found it necessary to resign in the past year. As most of you know, Molly Grothaus has been editor of the Quarterly Bulletin for five years. I think all of us recognize how important the Bulletin is to the Society and what a high quality publication it has become. Many of the improvements Molly has made during her tenure have been very apparent and even more have been quite subtle. Offset printing on lower weight but higher bulk paper has helped keep printing and mailing costs down. At the same time Molly has improved the style and legibility of print. She also leaves the new editor with a good selection of material for future issues. The Spring issue is Molly's last issue as editor and Molly, I think the Society owes you a debt of gratitude. We are fortunate to have a new editor who has been working with Molly to ease the transition. He is Ed Egan, of the Portland Chapter, who brings with him an enthusiasm and a background of experience which we are confident will enable him to carry on in the same fine tradition.
The second key lady is resigning after fifteen years as the first and only director of the Seed Exchange. In fact, the name of Esther Berry has become almost synonymous with the Seed Exchange. "'Seedy Esther", as she has come to be known, along with a few faithful helpers in the Grays Harbor Chapter, has solicited, sorted, sifted, and sent enough rhododendron seeds to blanket the country and a few foreign countries as well. Fortunately discriminating gardeners have kept this from happening by selecting just the most choice of their progeny.
Esther has said that she is anxious to obtain slides of these outstanding plants which have originated from the Seed Exchange. She has only eight or ten such slides at present. When she mentioned this at the Director's Meeting the other day, Gus Mehlquist noted that since the Seed Exchange didn't begin until 1963, that wasn't such a bad number!
The responsibilities of Esther's full time job as Executive Secretary have pre-empted her Seed Exchange duties. We are very pleased to have found a new "Seed Lady": Kay Ogle of the Seattle Chapter, who has made a very auspicious beginning. Kay has the assistance of the Rhododendron Study Group at the University of Washington Arboretum, and if the quality of this year's seed list is any indication of things to come I think the Seed Exchange is in good hands.
From the membership survey of several years ago, one of the messages that came through loud and clear was the insatiable appetite of the membership for publications. I am happy to report that Dr. Harold Clarke is in the final stages of editing the new ARS handbook on American hybrids and is expecting to have it in the hands of a publisher this summer. The Board of Directors has also agreed to publish a definitive text on the lapponicum Series by Drs. Melva and William Philipson of New Zealand. This text, complete with original illustrations, is expected to be completed this year.
Our own Frank West, along with Philip Livingston and a small group of workers, has independently published Hybrids and Hybridizers, a major work dealing with rhododendrons and azaleas for Eastern America.
We have a new Publications Committee which is charged with the responsibility of developing a more comprehensive publication's program. Such a program could include reprints of classical texts, now out-of-print, or monographs on various subjects, such as insect and disease control, propagation, hybridizing, or any other subject which might be of interest to the membership. One very promising possibility is the translation and reproduction of a modern treatise on Chinese species, which Dr. Kehr obtained during his recent visit to the Peoples Republic of China. In addition, we anticipate the possibility of sponsoring, or lending its seal of approval to other publications on rhododendrons which are independently financed, leading to the advertising and sale of these books through the ARS offices.
For several years our Committee on Shows and Judging, chaired by Betty Hager, has been working on national guidelines for rhododendron shows, in order that all chapter shows be conducted under a uniform set of rules. We now have a set of guidelines which appears acceptable to both Eastern and Western show conditions. We anticipate publication and distribution of these rules and information before the next blooming season. Also in this area, I would like to see a list of experienced and qualified judges drawn up who will, so to speak, be considered certified by the ARS. In order to train and bring along new judges I have proposed that we consider organizing a Judge's Workshop for the next annual meeting. This might consist of both lecture sessions and practical judging sessions, conducted by our most qualified judges. The prospective judge might then serve a preceptorship which would lead to certification as his or her experience and ability permits.
Now I'd like to say a few words about the Awards Program and the Ratings Program, since some misunderstanding about these two programs continues to exist. The purpose of the Awards Program was stated many years ago, and I quote: to improve the quality of rhododendron plants available to the general public by discovering superior plants, by publicizing these plants, and by utilizing the facilities and influence of the ARS to insure propagation and distribution.
The thrust of the Awards Program is rhododendron improvement and it is the hope and expectation that the chapter awards committees will actively seek out plants in their area which show promise of being superior to plants already in commerce. We emphasize that this includes superior forms of rhododendron species, and azaleas, as well as the usual lepidote or elepidote hybrids.
If a clone appears to have promise it is placed on the eligibility list. It then becomes the responsibility of the Awards Committee to continually reevaluate that plant and advance it through the award gauntlet, or to drop it from the list, according to its merits. Too often, in the past, the Awards Committee has only functioned when asked to judge a plant and would take no further responsibility until asked to judge it again for a higher award.
Because of this passive stance, the awards program has been at the mercy of the aggressive grower or hybridizer, while many fine plants in other gardens have gone unrecognized.
The Ratings Program, on the other hand, has the mission of comprehensively evaluating plants already in commerce and available to the gardening public.
Each plant is given a relative score for foliage and flower and these ratings are made available through the Society and publications.
Many members have complained, and understandably so, that there are many fine garden plants which have proven themselves over the years by performance and under the current definitions of the Awards Program, these are not eligible for awards. Such plants, however, are eligible for the new designation "Garden Gem", under criteria developed by the Ratings Committee. Furthermore, as with the Awards Program, the Ratings Committee intends to apply geographic designations which will indicate the areas where these plants perform well.
Without question the most fundamental need of this Society is a strong and continued growth in membership. During the past five years our net increase in members has been only 10%. The root of the problem appears to be the high turnover rate. In 1977 alone 668 new members were added but the net increase was much smaller because of the large number of non renewals. As Molly Grothaus noted in her final editor's report, if the Society had been able to retain just half of the new members that joined for each the past five years, the total membership would be 5,000 and we would realize an additional $16,000 annually in membership dues. This is the magnitude of growth we need if we are ever to establish a permanent national headquarters with an adequately compensated full time staff. And it goes without saying that a continuous infusion of new members is the life blood of any organization.
With these goals in mind I have asked Janet Binford of the Portland Chapter to be chairlady of a new Membership Committee. This Committee is charged with the responsibility of advising the Board of Directors on membership goals and making recommendations for improvements at both the national and chapter levels which will lead to healthy growth for the Society.
The Annual Meeting Committee has host chapters lined up for the next seven years. Following the Vancouver meeting in 1979, the succeeding host chapters will be as follows:
1980 - The Massachusetts Chapter
1981 - The California Chapter
1982 - The Potomac Valley Chapter
1983 - The Portland Chapter
1984 - Calloway Gardens
1985 - The Seattle Chapter
I'm sure many of you have had correspondence with our faithful Plant Registrar, Ed Parker. We are pleased to have him at an East Coast Meeting, and just in case some of you haven't seen him in person, Ed would you stand up and be recognized. I think I am representing Ed's position, as well as my own, by saying that we should encourage the registration of all names in common use as well as those of new plants which show unusual promise. We also hope that plant breeders will use this privilege with discretion and avoid the wholesale naming of plants before they are tested and found to have merit.
The Slide Library Committee has made impressive progress under the leadership of Fred Galle, with Emil Hager and Art Dome coordinating the Eastern and Western distribution. Five new programs have been created and made available during the past year, and the logistics for ordering and delivery have been improved.
The Pollen Bank Committee, led by Marty Mayer, is in the process of establishing a liaison person in each chapter. Instructions for gathering and sending the pollen are being supplied in an effort to obtain a broader base of donors.
Finally, I would like to say a few words about the International Rhododendron Conference which was held on May 15, 16, and 17 at the New York Botanical Garden. This conference was co-sponsored by the NYBG and the ARS, represented by David Leach and August Kehr. Distinguished scientists were brought to New York from countries around the world, including England, Scotland, New Zealand, Germany, Denmark, and Japan, as well as the United States. Dr. Sleumer, whose original work published in 1949, formed the stimulus for new research on the taxonomy of the genus rhododendron, was, as you know, unable to be here but sent his paper to be read. I think that those who attended the Conference will agree that this exchange of information will be remembered as a landmark event and hopefully will open a continuing dialogue on this complex subject. One thing I am sure of is that the reverberations from the Old Snuff Mill in the Botanical Garden will be felt for some time. The proceedings from this Conference are scheduled to be published in the fall. (Carlton Lees, senior vice president at the Botanical Garden, a member of the Steering Committee and our genial host, is with us tonight and deserves much of the credit for the success of the Conference.)
Before closing I would like to take the opportunity to thank collectively all of those members of the New York Chapter who have worked so hard to make this meeting a success. I know from personal experience the long hours of planning and work that are involved, and the unexpected problems that produce much behind-the-scenes agony that the guests never know about. And so to Dorothy Schlaikjer, the president, AI La Porte, the Convention Committee Chairman, and all of his able assistants (particularly the one who arranged the weather for the past two days), to those who shared their gardens with us, and to all of the others who have been hospitable in so many ways, our hearty thanks!