Garden Club honors members for 118 years of service

October 19, 2010

By Contributor

Washington state’s first garden club recently honored members Agnes Schmoe, June Willard and Joanne Dinken for “longevity of garden club membership” for a combined tenure of 118 years to the Issaquah Garden Club.

Schmoe, a 91-year-old retired nurse, made a joke when asked about being honored for 61 years of membership to the club, which was established in 1928.

“I got an award for being old. It feels kind of silly, because I didn’t do anything in particular,” she said with a laugh over a phone interview Oct 12.

Joanne Dinken, June Willard and Agnes Schmoe (from left) stand with bouquets given to honor them for “longevity of garden club membership” with a combined tenure of 118 years in the Issaquah Garden Club. By Rosemary Fahey

Former club president Dianne Tanner said she “thought it was really important to recognize them in front of the group” at the September luncheon meeting with certificates and flower arrangements she designed herself.

Schmoe, who said she does not care much for honors, admitted, “They gave a beautiful flower arrangement that lasted for a whole week before it wilted.”

“These are some very talented, special ladies,” Tanner said by phone. “They certainly have longevity between the three of them.”

Schmoe, who has served as president for five different years since 1962, said that “it’s not just about gardening — it’s about all the lovely, nice people you meet.”

Joanne Dinken, 86, was honored for 26 years of membership.

“I’ve made many new friends because of garden club, and I think it keeps getting better,” she said by phone.

Dinken said she cannot remember a time she was not interested in gardening.

“A neighbor asked me to go to the meeting, and I joined right away,” she said.

June Willard was honored for 30 years of membership by the Washington State Federation of Garden Clubs, of which she was president from 2005-2007.

In a phone conversation, she said she has been a member of the Issaquah Garden Club for 21 years.

“Garden club has really been an important part of my life — the friends I’ve made — and working with the businesses and just enjoying and participating in community activities,” she said.

Dinken said educating club members and the community is the most important part of the club’s mission. It also focuses on floral design, horticulture and community service.

She then named her favorite volunteer programs, including donating to Arbor Day, tending the native plant garden at the Issaquah History Museums, and raising money for scholarships awarded to high school students interested in studying horticulture.

“We are very active in community involvement,” Willard said, “and are just a fun group of people to be with.”

“We plunk back into the community what we make,” said Tanner, referring to the community auctions and fundraisers organized yearly by the group.

“The mission is to bring education, community service and fellowship,” she added. “But, there really isn’t just one thing we do — we’re so multifaceted.”

Tanner is especially proud of the program they started at Issaquah Valley Elementary School called “Growing Gardeners,” which teaches first-graders organic, sustainable gardening.

Although Tanner said it is important to teach young children the value of growing food without pesticides and herbicides, she admitted chemical-free horticulture is not for everyone.

“Some people are all organic — some people are all chemicals — and some people are somewhere in the middle,” she said.

But the Issaquah Garden Club is “take what you want and leave the rest.

“We offer everything from butterfly gardening to composting — and everything else in between,” she said.

The club does not confine itself to the city limits, but participates at the state and national levels as well. It is part of a larger group of garden clubs called the East Lake District, made up of 14 other clubs in Washington.

The East Lake District is affiliated with the National Garden Clubs Inc., the “largest gardening club in the U.S. and throughout the world,” Willard said. There are 132 clubs in The Washington State Federation of Garden Clubs, “and Washington is very active in our Pacific region made up of seven states, including Alaska and Hawaii.”

As the state’s chairwoman for Blue Star Memorial, which commemorates U.S. veterans at key highway and byway locations across the country, Willard represents the Issaquah Garden Club at state and national gatherings.

She said one of her club’s greatest ongoing achievements is the purchase, installation and maintenance of the Blue Star Memorial marker in Issaquah, placed “to honor veterans that have served, are serving and will serve in the armed forces of our country.”

A resident of the area since 1945 and a graduate of Issaquah High School, Willard is particularly proud of the club’s membership as a whole.

“We’ve got people from all over the country — a lot of transplants who are interested in gardening,” she said.

“There’s a niche for everyone at Issaquah Garden Club,” said Tanner, “from the person who just wants to grow herbs in their garden to the person who wants to go totally organic.”

Tyler Steele is a student in the University of Washington Department of Communication News Laboratory. Comment at

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