JARS v64n1 - In Memoriam: Henry 'Hank' Schannen

In Memoriam: Henry "Hank" Schannen
Peg Van Patton, Princeton Chapter
Ron Rabideau, RareFind Nursery

It is with great sadness that we report the death of our good friend Henry "Hank" Schannen on September 16, 2009, at the age of 71. His sudden death unquestionably leaves a tremendous void in our hearts and in our consciousness. He was always there, larger than life - at the very center of everything.

Hank was a people person with a genius for marketing. These were the traits, combined with his passion for rhododendrons, that shaped his life and made him a knowledgeable ambassador for the genus. But above all, it was his wit, humor, and enthusiasm that impressed everyone he encountered.

Hank began his career in market research at Johnson & Johnson. He later broadened his experience with other independent research firms. In 1975 he co-founded Hase-Schannen Research Associates of Princeton, New Jersey. There Mr. Schannen served as president of this highly successful market research firm, interacting directly with customers from the very beginning. His career provided frequent opportunities to travel throughout the country in pursuit of business and in conducting focus group research.

He joined Princeton Chapter ARS in 1966 and immediately became the ultimate rhododendron collector (a "plant nut" as he called himself). Not long after, he took up hybridizing with trays of seedlings everywhere, including his office, his home, and even his car. He became the eager outgoing spokesman for rhododendrons, as well as the man who wanted to learn everything about the genus. Generous to a fault, he shared his love of rhododendrons with everyone he met. Over the years, Hank took on many roles in Princeton Chapter. He served as president several times; became the program chairman; the nominations chairman; and, the plant sale coordinator ("We want to sell everything; take no prisoners"). He chaired the hybridizers' committee and the study committee and he wrote newsletters. The Princeton Chapter awarded him the Bronze Award in 1979.

In traveling across the country, Hank visited gardens and nurseries, befriended hybridizers and grew in his knowledge of plants and the people who tended them. Frequently, in April and May he would lead a group of like-minded individuals to the West Coast to see the bright yellow and red rhododendrons so difficult to grow in the eastern states with its more severe winter and summer climates. These fast-paced trips were informative and fun and the camaraderie they engendered was infectious. On several occasions, he led groups on tours of the rhododendron gardens in Germany.

Over time Hank became a popular speaker, sought out for his extensive knowledge of rhododendrons which was presented in an unpretentious, entertaining fashion. He served the society with his involvement in annual and regional meetings and as District Director on several occasions. Hank became a trustee of the Research Foundation in 1988 and chairman in 1990. He chaired this funding organization for the next eighteen years. Hank served as a long-time member of the Board of Directors of the Rhododendron Species Foundation. His generosity knew no bounds: he was never too busy to help, never too tired to lend his support; never too immersed in his own business affairs to turn away from the request of a friend or to introduce someone new to the world of rhododendrons. In 1997 the American Rhododendron Society awarded the Gold Medal to Mr. Schannen for his dedicated service and for being an ambassador-at-large for world of rhododendrons.

Ultimately, Hank's dream was to open his own rhododendron nursery that would specialize in the best plants he could find. He later founded RareFind Nursery in Jackson, New Jersey, and soon expanded it to offer choice specialties from rhododendrons to azaleas, dogwoods, magnolias, conifers, Japanese maples, and a countless variety of the things Hank loved. He liked to say that if you could find a variety of plant at your local nursery, you probably would not find it at RareFind. The catalogs he produced are works of marketing genius and plant knowledge. The start-up of his nursery coincided with the vast expansion of the Internet, a marketing tool which he used with great success. He set rigorous standards for his own hybrids, including his signature plant 'Solidarity'. The name was suggested by his Polish mother, Wanda. Hank also had a flare for naming plants and introducing them to the market knowing that a plant with a catchy name sells better than one identified only by its hybrid parents or species. Examples of other rhododendrons Hank named and introduced include 'Golden Globe', 'Dawn's Early Light', Hank's Mellow Yellow', 'Jurassic Fantasy', 'Silver Sovereign', 'Purple Elf', and 'Visiting Angels'.

Hank easily charmed those in his presence with his wonderful sense of humor. Many who knew him can tell you about his good-natured kidding, his quick wit, and his punning jokes. He was known to say, "My idea of an erotic dream is 'Roseum Elegans' in twenty one different colors." He loved spoonerisms and parodies such as the story of the cougar that ate Roy Rogers boots to which Dale Evans sang to the tune of the "Chattanooga Choo Choo," "Hey Roy, is that the cat that chewed your new shoes?" Or there was the occasion when Hank was introduced by Ambrose (Ambi) Schultz as the speaker at a Pilchuck Chapter meeting. Hank paid him his standard complement, "You did that introduction so well, I would like you to do my epitaph." Ambi shot back in an instant, "Lie down and I'll start writing"” Hank, taken aback for a second, smiled and replied, "I won't touch that. You're too quick for me."

Hank would want us to remember him not just for his involvement with rhododendrons, but for his passion for living, and the love he held for his family, his friends, and the wondrous gardens he created. Hank, who lived by old-fashioned standards of integrity and valued honsty and fairness above all, was truly a man for all seasons. We will all remember Hank and his soaring capacity for life. "Now cracks a noble heart. Good night sweet prince/And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest."