Legends: How It All Began
By Anita Smith
In the beginning, there was the Georgia Rose Society, which was formed in l934. For many years it was the hub of rose growing information in the area. During the l950’s Atlanta formed its own chapter and from this grew the Deep South District, organized in l958. The first District Meeting was in Birmingham in l959, followed by Atlanta, and then Jacksonville the following year.
It immediately became evident that some source of communication was necessary, so the Deep South District Bulletin began, first edited by A. B. Wentz, who was also the first Director of the Deep South District. Barney Wentz was a most interesting character. For a living he worked as a Secret Service Agent, guarding President Eisenhower and was present at the famous Kruschev tirade when he took off his shoe (Kruschev, not Barney) and banged it on the podium, shouting “We will bury you”. Barney was a big man in every sense of the word, but those large hands could do wonders with delicate rose petals.
Following Barney was H. H. Huckeba, another big, tough fellow, who was Chief Engineer for the State of Georgia Highway Department. “Huck” loved every person he ever met, and they loved him back. He came to the point of having won so many of the awards he declined to exhibit his roses any more, as he felt he was discouraging the newcomers. At his funeral, the minister went into great detail of watching Huck working so hard in his garden, slaving over his rose plants, and sweating in the hot sun to grow beautiful roses……TO GIVE AWAY. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.
Following him as District Director was Mrs. Katy Lampkin, bless her soul. While all this was developing in Georgia, she was creating miracles in Florida with Fortuniana rootstock and Henry Hunt was setting records in Alabama. I was so in awe of Henry, still am.
Other “Giants” of the early District were, of course, Mr. George – George Johnston, who edited our Bulletin for 13 years after Huck retired. When George retired from The Telephone Company he told them he didn’t want a gold watch, he wanted a “tin house” for his backyard to use as his office in editing the Bulletin. This was done, and he spent the better part of these years in his tin house, and established the style and character that has been carried on through the years and made this Bulletin the outstanding document it remains. His “By George” articles, written in lower case with no punctuation, remain classics of humor and wit.
Maibelle Hodgins was also one of the movers and shakers. A quintessential Southern gentlewoman, Maibelle was an unforgettable character of unique abilities, a writer of note, a lecturer of reknown. A determined exhibitor, and grower of outstanding roses, you always knew when she was in the room. She remained devoted to the Deep South District until her death.
Tom Donaldson was another of the dedicated rosarians who began the District. He served as Treasurer for many years. Mildred Bryant was a vital part of these early years, and her beautiful book “Rosarama” is a collector’s item on Arranging Roses.
Another outstanding lady in the early years was Mrs. Fred Baker, known to all as “Bill”. Her Christian name was Evelyn, but few knew it, she was “Bill” to all. She was the glue that held the whole thing together from the time of the Georgia Rose Society until her death in late l980’s. You know what I mean….the lady who saw to the meeting place, made sure chairs were available, arranged refreshments, etc., all those things ladies do in the background that make the men look good. Bill was my personal mentor, and would on occasion slap my hand when we were working in our public garden and I did something she didn’t like, like disbudding a stem she didn’t want disbudded. And I don’t mean a polite little love-pat, I mean a good, hard, whack. This was a good learning experience.
Yes, these were really giants and it was my privilege to know them and to learn from them. The wonder of our rose hobby is the variety of backgrounds of people involved. People from every walk of life who love roses seem to be drawn to participate in the business of sharing information with others in the most efficient ways possible. Quite a hobby!