Presented at a meeting of the Duluth Heights Garden Flower Society in 1977.

Welcome to every one of you who came today to help us celebrate the 50th year of the Duluth Heights Garden Flower Society! In preparing to talk to you on the history of our group, I tried to review all the minutes and reports that we still have so that there would be an over-all picture of those years.

You can be sure I found these records of the last 50 years fascinating! I wish I could transfer all the details of what I read from my head to yours. In connection with the recording of short-term and long-term projects that were carried out, these are some of the names of the people who worked on them. It will be impossible for me to mention all of even those few. We all know that every member contributes time, energy and talents as each is able to do. There would not have been all these activities and accomplishments if everyone had not put first and foremost this guiding thought. namely “For the good of the organization”.

With that thought in mind, members were willing to work hard, to enjoy and co-operate with each other, with other garden clubs, with the city-wide Executive Board of the Duluth Garden Flower Society, with the 8th. District Horticultural Society, and last but not least, with the MN State Horticultural Society. To me, it is a most impressive thing when each of us and each of these organizations work together to learn more about horticulture, it’s practice, it’s promotion and progress, and it’s use to add beauty to our lives.

Gardening in one form or another has been part of the lives of human beings from the beginning. It isn’t only a fad that is popular for a few months or years. or even for hundreds of years, but is a basic activity that forms a common bond among people. No matter how different two people arc in other areas of their lives, Just get the two talking about their successes or failures in raising roses, for instance, or their problems in growing broccoli or peas. and they have a free-flowing conversation going in no time.

So much for philosophy, now let’s get to the nitty-gritty of the beginning of our club. It was organized in October 1927. The first officers were Mrs. Minnie Pennell, President; Mrs. C. Brisco, Vice-President; Mrs. Al Sellin, Secretary; and Mrs. T. Chettick, Treasurer.

The slogan for the club was “You are nearer God’s heart in a garden than any other place on earth. Their favorite flower was the dahlia, and the project “Yard Beautification.” These same officers served a second year, but in May of the second year, Minnie Pennell died. Dedication services were held Sept. 6th. 1929, at which the park on Central Entrance and Arlington Ave. was officially named Minnie Pennell Park, and the Park Board paid tribute to Mrs. Pennell. Mrs. Rebecca Boyinton conducted devotions on this ceremonial occasion.

The membership of the Duluth Heights Club was around 100 when first organized, but the record shows that paid-up membership the second year was 37. There must have been many reasons why many dropped out, but I’ll go out on a limb and say that the ones who stayed were dedicated people.


The only active charter member we still have with us is Mary Bauers, since the only other living charter member, Anna Fredstrom, is now at a nursing home. After Mary, the one who takes the honors in most number of years is Bea Becklund with 42 years, 38 years of which she served ably as our secretary.

I’d like to mention briefly a number of projects that the club carried on in the past that we no longer do. In 1930 the club organized and advised a Junior Garden Club, with adult counselors. Mrs. Fredstrom was in the first group of counselors, and several others helped guide the youngsters. I would like to read the 1935 Junior Report prepared by Mrs. R. J. Campbell, chairman of this project. (Page 6 of the 1937 to 1948 minutes book.) During other years the children had gardens of their own and received prizes for the best ones. Decorating a Christmas tree at the Children’s Ward at St. Luke’s went on for a number of years.

For at least 4 years the Heights Garden Club had its own flower show at Lowell School. A 1934 entry in the minutes stated that 19 members made 243 entries in the show. However, in 1938 it was decided to cooperate with the city flower show instead of having a local one up here. But the custom of having our own flower show died hard, and in August of 1942 it revived on a small scale when each member was asked to bring one flower that she had carefully grown to the regular meeting for a small show.

A third project they used to do in the ‘30’s was to give cut flowers weekly to the Information Bureau at the Spalding Hotel, a gift that the Chamber of Commerce really appreciated.

Another horticulture-related accomplishment was the purchase of wild flowers that were labeled and then planted around the Girl Scout Cabin. That was one of the many things done under the influence of Mrs. Verl Nicholson, or “Nick” as members affectionately call her. Her interest extended also to the State level, and she never failed to work for such things as getting rid of unsightly billboards along state highways. In 1944 Nick was elected the first woman president of the MN State Horticultural Society. I’d like to mention that in the yellow history book you will find a write-up about Nick that was used in the December 1975 state magazine.

At least two other projects I can think of that the club did for a long time, but that we no longer do. One was to sponsor Girl Scout and Brownie troops, pay for a few scouts every year to go to camp and put on an annual banquet for Scouts and parents. The second was to give Christmas gifts every year to women at the Arlington Home and men at the Cook Home, to bring a lily over at Easter time, and to give pink ice cream on Mother’s Day. Somehow, I associate our long-time member Mae Ellefsen with that project as she was always so willing to carry it out. Just as we associate Mrs. Brisco with the giving of aprons to the Arlington Home women, and the Scout banquet with Mary Bauers, and of course with Helen Hanson who so ably engineered many of them during her long association with the Scouts.

Oh, and it must have been during World War II that the garden club planted and tended Victory Gardens, the produce being canned and later used for hot lunches at Lowell School. During our social hour later, maybe some of you older members can tell us more about those projects.

Another thing we used to do was donate money to the struggling new Arboretum, before it became part of the University.

We know there were projects started long ago that this Club still carries on. We enter a float in the annual Duluth Heights Frolic Parade every year, and usually win a prize. We continue to send flowers to the elementary schools in the Heights each Sept., a custom that originally meant a bouquet to each teacher, later a corsage being the custom. Now, it’s a flower arrangement in time for the first PTA meeting of the year. Some of our members also judge the children’s flower and garden show each year.

Another thing we continue to do is provide and serve lunch for the Golden Age Club one month out of the year since it was organized in 1952 by members of the garden club but not as a garden club project And of course we still plant and care for the flowerbeds at Pennell Park showing our special love and concern there, and plant and tend flowerbeds at the Community Club. You may want to read in our history book about planting 3 trees at the park in June 1976 for the Bi-Centennial year, and to honor our 3 oldest members, Bea Becklund, Mary Bauers, and Anna Fredstrom.

And now, a useful thing I learned from reading the Secretary’s book was how to choose a gardener. You choose him by patches. If he has patches on his knees, take him. If he has patches on the seat of his pants, reject him, Work is the magic word here, I would guess.

Reviewing these activities shows us that this club did, and does, many service types of things when there is a need in the community. It is no wonder it has become a respected organization in the Heights.

But the basics of horticulture have not been neglected and the club had a period of basic training you might say after the Nicholson era began. Before Nick’s influence became strong in the early years, there was a period when every other meeting was devoted to games after the business meeting. But there was no time for games after Nick started what amounted to schooling in the basics of growing things. She even had tests, report cards, and diplomas! She asked that each member keep a scrapbook of information Bea Becklund has generously let me bring hers here today for you to look over.

In later years the club took up the study of flower arranging, making of corsages, preparation of flowers to enter in competition in shows, and in that era I see Ann Klowosky entering the picture as a leader in addition to Nick. Ann’s interests and ability to work at them took her into presidency of the Duluth Garden Flower Society in 1960 and 1961 and also presidency of the 8th. District Horticultural Society, besides much activity in the St Louis County Club.

Something I’ve admired in this club over the years has been the way our own members have researched different topics and given reports that were extremely interesting and informative. For example, Virginia Florman gave a series of talks on birds, and Edna Shipman a series of talks on flower arranging, complete with illustrations. Many, many other members have given prepared talks on subjects they had first studied themselves. That takes effort, and effort means progress in learning and in doing.

Some members no longer garden actively, but we all take an interest in enhancing the beauty of our surroundings. Each member contributes to the good of the organization and its goals, by her interest and cooperation and service. I must add here that husbands of members deserve a word of’ recognition for the help they have given and continue to give in some of our projects.

We also salute our present officers who are continuing our traditions, and adding to them with their own individuality. They had the honor of being officers during the MN State Horticultural Society Convention held in Duluth in August of this year. The last such convention in Duluth was in 1951.
I know all too well that these few remarks have not been a complete history of our club, and that in order not to make this too lengthy, many worthy projects have not been mentioned. But feel free to look over our historical books displayed here, and the old flower show schedules including the schedule for the last Duluth Heights show in 1937.

If you have a snapshot or a clipping at home that you think we do not have in our books here, we would be very glad to get it. Please date your clippings, and identify the people on the snapshots. We’ve had trouble identifying the unmarked ones as the years go on.

Thank you and I hope some fond memories have stirred you today.

Submitted by Ellen Sall

(Presented at a meeting of the Duluth Heights Garden Flower Society in 1977).


Presented at a meeting of the Duluth Heights Garden Club February 1998.

As the late 70s and 80s progressed, the Duluth Heights Garden Club began to feel the effects of our changing society. Each year more and more women became members of the work force and as such did not have as much time to dedicate to service organizations. The club decided in the late 80s that it needed to build public awareness of both the park and the club itself.

One of the first steps the club did to move towards these ends was to become involved in community education Classes included “Fall Preparation” and “Spring into Gardening” that welcomed members of the community to learn more above the exciting and rewarding avocation of gardening. Club members Sharon Veenhuis, Ani Othman, Joanne Daeda, Virginia Stephenson, and Janell Smith organized and taught on the subjects of the importance of soil preparation; bulb and plant selection; garden maintenance: etc. Attendance in each class ranged from 6 to 29 students. These free, one night classes left students of all ages enthusiastic to start gardening and to learn more. Students were also encouraged to join one of the many garden clubs throughout the area. The “Spring into Gardening” class continues to this day and is held each fall.

The club also understood that it needed to educate the Duluth Heights community as well as the greater Duluth area that Pennell Park was a city park to be enjoyed and used by all. The first step towards this end was to have signage announcing the park to the public. The club lobbied the City of Duluth for a sign. The city agreed with the plan, provided the sign and in September of 1990 JanelI and Dick Smith proudly installed the sign that now graces the Central Entrance side of the park. During that same summer Joanne Daeda and Virginia Stephenson also approached the City of Duluth about donating timbers and dirt so a 20’x20’ raised bed could be constructed on the east side of the park. 0nce again the City agreed and delivered the needed materials. Joanne and Virginia spent many hours during the summer of ‘90 hauling and installing timbers and moving yard after of yard of dirt into this new garden site—quite an undertaking. The garden was now ready for planting and the club set out to turn this plot into a beautiful mixture of perennials and annuals.

But that seemed to be just the beginning! Joanne once again approached the City. Her now familiar voice on the phone to the Parks and Recreation department was asking for 2 picnic tables. The city again agreed and delivered the tables. Now families, friends and all could truly enjoy and spend time in the park.

The reaction to the sign and changes was almost instantaneous! Usage was increasing, people in the community were talking about the park and area businesses were also noticing. Garden supply businesses were now open to donating to the park. The Miller Mall K-Mart, Gordy’s, Engwall’s, and Trico (Dan’s Feed Bin Too) all donated plant materials, supplies and brochures for classes to the club.

Now that the club had ventured down the road of regaining the public awareness of the park, the sky was the limit. Joanne took on the monumental task of writing a grant for a Neighborhood Matching Grant in the August of 1995. Through her hard work and with fellow member Barb Kuznik the Duluth Heights Garden Club received one of the 11 grants presented. The grant. for $965 was for the purchase and installation of three park benches and additional landscaping in the park. A stipulation of the grant was that the park, neighborhood residents and businesses would provide labor and cash.

With grant in hand, contractors were hired and the three city approved benches where installed in the spring of 1996. The club removed all the sod around the benches and installed 1.000lbs of white marble chips under each bench. Dick and Janell Smith provided the muscle for the marble installation.
It was quite an undertaking because they hauled one and a half tons of chips, through many trips to the retailer, in their car. As usual club members are a resourceful bunch and make do with what is available. The park was now ready to be officially unveiled.

On July 10, 1996 the completed park and new benches were dedicated. It was a beautiful summer day in Duluth. Close to 30 people attended the All Family Picnic. Present were Duluth Mayor Gary Doty along with Tim Howard and Lynn Slotness of the City of Duluth. Huge bouquets of peonies adorned the tables. It was a very proud day for the club!

The ‘90s also brought a realization that the club needed to reacquaint itself with its past. Minnie Pennell was described by Mayor Snively at the September 1929 park dedication as “a good woman, engaged in a good work.” The club renewed its contact with the family of Mrs. Pennell and has since had opportunities to talk with and even have Mrs. Helen Kensel, Mrs. Pennell’s granddaughter, attend important club/park functions It has been wonderful for the club to have found our roots!

Over the past two decades the club has continued its presence at the annual Duluth Flower Garden Show held each August. The club has done well each year if not in quantity of entries, at least in quality of entries.

Park improvements have continued in the year of 1997. A tumbling retaining wall on the Arlington side of the park was replaced with landscaping supervised by Tom Kasper from the City of Duluth. Our park has been “adopted” by Cub Scout Pack #23 through the Adopt A Park program with the promise of an annual litter clean up. Beds have been amended and improved, edging has been installed to aid ease of maintenance, and memorial plantings for Bernice Severance and Robert Johnson have been added to the bed that surrounds the sign. Many memorial plantings adorn the park for past members and gardening lovers. These living tributes to our good friends and loved ones bring much joy and beauty to the park.

The late 1990s bring many different challenges to the club. In the summer of ‘97 a strip mall was constructed on the east edge of the park. We all took it upon ourselves to protect the park from the ravages of construction. It has not been a pretty sight but we must look to the future of the Duluth Heights Community. With increase usage next to the park it could be a blessing in disguise. Public awareness of the park could be heightened and even more usage could be gained from our new neighbors. We will also be concentrating on garden maintenance and the development of separate but homogenous themes for our many garden beds, and the task of growing the membership numbers of our club.

As the Duluth Heights Garden Club approaches the millennium and now moves toward the 8th decade we look toward the future. As 1998 begins we are a club of 17 members, a number that is vastly different than those early years of the club. Seventy years ago most women’s main tasks included running the household and raising the children. In the years since 1927 our world has vastly changed. One income can no longer keep most families on a stable financial path so many women in our society now have careers outside as well as inside the home. This leaves less and less free time for those dedicated gardeners that are the backbone and the heart of the Duluth Heights Garden Club. We hope to make a smooth transition into this era and build from the strength, beauty and knowledge of all members of the club. This will bring the best of all ages together and make a better, stronger club.

Submitted by Kathy Loke and Janell Smith. February 11, 1998


Some additional Duluth Heights History: