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Garden club focus goes beyond own back yards

Dec. 02, 2012 @ 06:56 PM

Garden clubs might not be as prevalent as they once were, but the clubs that have survived are moving with the times.  One in particular, the Beechwood Estates Garden Club, has been at work in Putnam County for at least four decades and if you want to see proof of their efforts, just look to your right as you drive west along I-64 at the Hurricane rest stops.

In 2007, the group raised money and purchased a Blue Star Memorial that was placed at both Hurricane rest stops along the Interstate.

“It is a way to say ‘thank you’ to the veterans who have been in the service,” said Linda Clark, president of the Beechwood club.

“The Blue Star Memorial Marker program of the National Garden Clubs, Inc., according to gardenclub.com, began in 1945 to honor the men and women serving in the Armed Forces during World War II. The name was chosen for the star on flags displayed in homes and businesses denoting a family member serving. Garden clubs pictured a ribbon of living memorial plantings traversing every state. The designation of Blue Star highways was achieved through petitions to the state legislatures and cooperation with the Departments of Transportation. A uniform marker was designed to identify the Highways.

The Blue Star Memorial Program grew to extend thousands of miles across the continental United States, Alaska and Hawaii. All men and women who have served, are serving, or will serve in the Armed Forces of the United States are included.

Markers continue to be dedicated each year on highways, veterans’ facilities, national cemeteries, parks, and civic and historic sites, showing our appreciation for those who defend our country.

Clark said the state is trying to get at least one in each county.

“We’ve sponsored three. Each side (on the interstate at Hurricane) has one. We went in with the St. Alban’s club to place one at Roadside Park on Route 60,” Clark said.  Life member Carrie Browning remembers the dedication well.

“The mayor of Hurricane, police from the city came, and guys from the VFW 9097 played taps, (and fired) a 21-gun salute Retiring of Colors,” Browning said.

And if you haven’t glanced to the right as you go west on I-64 lately, the ladies have been busy sprucing up the area around that marker. In September, the club entered a competition sponsored by the State Garden Club titled, “The Eleanor W. Cain Memorial Award” which awards $100 to a club for making landscaping improvements around an already established Blue Star Memorial or by-way marker. Not having applied for any awards before, the Beechwood club members took on the project with enthusiasm. Because patriotic colors/themes are given preference, they decorated the area around the marker with red, white, and blue chrysanthemums and pansies.

The Beechwood Garden club, which was chartered in October 1969, is the only Putnam County club to belong to the West Virginia State Garden Club and the National Garden Club. While formerly being in what was then known as the Adena District, they are now part of the Ohio-Guyan District, which is made up of Putnam, Kanawha, Wayne, Mingo, Mason, Logan, Lincoln, Cabell, and Boone counties. Nationally, West Virginia is part of the South Atlantic Region.

Membership in the Beechwood group is limited to those living in that subdivision and those who have previously lived there. However, they would be happy to help other groups get started. The women meet once a month from September to April. Many of their activities are related to the beautification of the neighborhood. While the 15-member club decorates the entrance to the neighborhood, they also encourage residents to spruce up their individual yards. Each month until Halloween, the neighbors compete to see who has the nicest landscaping. The winning family has a “Yard of the Month” sign placed on its property.

“People get so thrilled — ‘Oh my gosh, (they think) my flowers look good,’” Clark said, which builds homeowners’ confidence in their gardening skills. They also compete at Christmas for the best outside decorations. Clark said the winners have had both elegant and fun decorations.

At Christmas, they make baskets filled with Christmas cookies, fruit, candy, and fruit drink mixes to deliver to elderly neighbors or to those who are ill and can’t get out.

In addition, they have bought all signs in the neighborhood and purchased at least four benches that are placed strategically around the subdivision for the many runners and walkers coming through their area of Teays Valley.

However, their work is not limited to their neighborhood. Each year they sponsor a Putnam County student to send to the West Virginia Conservation Camp, which is held for five days in June at Camp Caesar in Webster County. Students who are interested should contact them. Two years ago they helped a Daisy Troop earn a native plant badge, and are more than willing to help other Girl Scout troops do the same. They also donate a book each year to the Putnam County Library, and donate money at each meeting that goes to the Christian Community Cupboard in Hurricane.

Taking on projects such as the Blue Star Markers requires major funding. To pay for their projects they conduct a major fundraiser each spring.

“Around Easter we make Easter ducks out of yellow chocolate. We usually sell several hundred,” Clark said. This fundraiser has been quite successful and has been used for several decades to fund their projects. However, the women were in the Adena District when those were placed and the Alban and Saint Albans Garden Clubs also contributed to the purchase of the Blue Star Markers, which can run $1,000 each. Clark said all money goes to help the community.

“We are a non-profit organization and we need to spend our money on service to the community,” Clark said.

Although several of their members have maintained the club for four decades, Clark joined just six years ago after she retired as a counselor and history teacher at Hurricane High School. She said she has learned a lot from being in the club.

“I have learned a lot about maintaining yards, the flowers… we participate in the national bird count put on by the National Audubon Society,” she said.

“They have a wealth of information. I have learned so much,” she said.

Clark, who has been a member of the club since 2006, was first introduced to garden clubs while attending Hurricane High School by then history teacher, Kathryn Coyner. Today, however, the days of dressing up for tea are gone.

“It was a thrill to go to older ladies’ houses for a Christmas tea. Now instead of fancy hats and gloves, we put on our garden gloves and work in the dirt,” she said. 

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