Tag Archives: Westport Garden Club

Eloise Reilly: The Centenarian’s Great Sequel

I was so glad this morning to run an upbeat story. Westporter Eloise Reilly turned 100 on Sunday, and — from a safe distance — her neighbors helped her celebrate.

I called her a “longtime Westporter, and still-very-active community member.” I didn’t know the half of it.

Today, alert and inspired “06880” reader Kristin McKinney sent along a profile of Eloise she wrote a couple of years ago, for the Westport Garden Club newsletter. In honor of Eloise, she graciously shares it with us.

She picked up her landline on the second ring, old school style, no email, no cell phone. Connecticut native and Westport Garden Club member since 1977, Eloise Reilly was cheerful, bright and as receptive as she could be, certainly she would meet with me tomorrow for a WGC newsletter profile.

She gave me directions; we agreed to meet at 10 a.m. Approaching her property and ascending the longish driveway I noticed the American flag hoisted proudly on a tall, metal flagpole. Ellen Greenberg tipped me off that Eloise served in some capacity during World War II, and seeing Old Glory so elegantly displayed convinced me that was indeed the case.

I parked, found the door after looping around the house which coincidentally afforded me a very nice glimpse of Eloise’s gardens, and gave a gentle knock. Two sets of beautiful eyes met me, Eloise’s piping blues and those of her two-year old rescue kitty who viewed me somewhat suspiciously.

Eloise Reilly, on her 100th birthday. (Photo/Darren and Sally Spencer)

I was invited in and led to a comfy chair near a large bay window where the next three hours passed like a New York City minute. Not having the advantage of searching a Facebook page or Linked In profile in advance of our interview, I proceeded conversationally, looking for common ground.

Eloise was charmingly forthcoming; our initial topic of discussion involved her very successful career as a human resources manager for advertising giant Young & Rubicam that began in 1953, and a second career after tiring of the NYC commute as a realtor with Helen Benson Real Estate.

Talk moved to her home, a beautiful structure designed and built by none other than Eloise herself in 1956, in a time and era where women “just weren’t doing those types of things.” I asked Eloise where she developed her fondness for gardening and asked if as a little girl, she spent time in her mother’s gardens.

The answer was not only yes, but it turns out that like Janet Wolgast, her mother knew the Latin names of every variety of plant, flower and shrub that is identified by the American Horticulture Society.

What is her passion? Growing from seed. Eloise shared that she loves watching things grow, geraniums in particular. As a curious seed novice, I asked about her method for obtaining them, her quick-witted response was, “Order them from Fark’s!”

Eloise Reilly, during World War II.

An interview with Eloise wouldn’t be remotely complete without going into detail about a period in her life which she describes as, “a fabulous experience. Never happened before, will never happen again.”

After reading an article in Life Magazine, Eloise discovered women could go overseas with the Red Cross. She applied unsuccessfully multiple times, each rejection letter specifying the same reason:  she didn’t meet the minimum age requirement of 25.

That year was 1943 and according to Eloise whose two brothers were in the Naval Air Corps, “1300 of Westport’s 7K residents were in active service, everybody and anybody enlisted.”

Not to be deterred, Eloise finally scored an interview in DC and in battling the age argument audaciously stated, “I’m not 25, the war is going to be over by the time I’m 25, but I’ll match my family against anybody you have in the Red Cross.” She was officially in.

Eloise Reilly became a member of the Clubmobilers, a unique unit of service recognized by U.S. Senate Resolution 471 dated May 23, 2012, for exemplary service during the Second World War. Clubmobiles, established in 1942 and conceived by Harvey Gibson, the Red Cross Commissioner to Great Britain, provided fresh coffee, doughnuts, entertainment and a listening ear to troops across Western Europe and eventually the Far East.

Eloise’s tour of duty took her through England, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Holland and Belgium, as she says, “zigzagging all over the place.” According to Eloise, “I learned to drive a six-wheel, two-ton truck with a double clutch and no power steering. We were assigned to a division, the 12th army group, and we had to meet them upon request in various towns or even countries. There were 8 trucks per group, 3 girls apiece, 24 in total. There was also a supply truck with two girls who could sing or play the piano.”

Eloise Reilly, as a Clubmobiler.

In the event of capture, the ladies were made second lieutenants and although this allowed them admittance into the officer’s club for a meal, they preferred to dine with the GI’s. The Clubmobilers found themselves living in tents, chateaus or even theoccasional, local bordello.

If they asked for directions to the powder room, most often the response was met with a nod toward the surrounding woods. Eloise remarked that in a world of men, the Clubmobiliers were placed on a pedestal, treated like sisters, aunts, mothers.  “They were protected,” said Eloise. “Nobody got out of line, the GI’s were self-policing.”

I asked Eloise if she was ever afraid and the answer was a resounding “no.”  While she admits to being apprehensive at times and despite some accidents and fatalities sustained by fellow Clubmobilers, she was never concerned for her own life.

In fact, her goal was to get to the Front.

FUN FACTThe Westport Garden Club is 96 years old. To Eloise, that’s almost a child.

Westport Garden Club Promotes Pollinator Project And Plant Sale

At 95 years old, people start to slow down.

Even an organization nearing the century mark can lose a bit off its fastball.

But the Westport Garden Club — founded in 1924, the year Calvin Coolidge became the first president to deliver a radio address from the White House, “Rhapsody in Blue” was first performed publicly, and Ronald Reagan entered high school — is hardly doddering.

In fact, it’s dynamic.

The other day, Westport Garden Club members (from left) Andi Turner, Kathy Fassman, Pat Nave, Monica Buesser and Anne Haymon cleaned Grace Salmon Park.

In its 10th decade, the club has partnered with a couple of young whippersnappers — Earthplace and the Wakeman Town Farm Sustainability Center — to launch the Westport Pollinator Pathway Project.

The goals are to educate the public about the environmental benefits of native plant species, and encourage homeowners and businesses to make their properties pollinator-friendly.

It can be done on the smallest parcel. Just welcome birds, bees and butterflies with native plants as habitat and food sources. And minimize the use of harmful pesticides.

First Selectman Jim Marpe has declared this the “Year of the Pollinator.” A long list of organizations and businesses have joined the project.

Since 1924, Westport Garden Club members have valued native varieties. They’re the mainstay of the annual Plant Sale.

Folks at this year’s event — Friday, May 10, 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at Saugatuck Congregational Church — will find a full selection of catmint, bee balm, lobelia, woodland phlox and bleeding heart.

There’s also an information booth on the Pollinator Pathway Project.

In 2014 — when the Westport Garden Club was just 90 — members enjoyed the annual Plant Sale.

This year marks another Garden Club milestone. Fifty years ago, they received their first grant from the Grace K. Salmon Trust.

Members used the funds to turn 3 acres of landfill on Imperial Avenue into a public park.

It was not easy. But 8 years later — after a series of mishaps, disappointments and and much-needed soil remediation — the park opened.

Grace Salmon Park was pollinator-friendly.

It still is today.

(Hat tip: Topsy Siderowf)

Garden Club Plant Sale: A Perennial Attraction

If you’re a gardener, you always think of the future.

But it’s doubtful that the 8 women and 2 men who founded the Westport Garden Club back in 1924 could imagine that 94 years later, their organization is still going strong.

Or that the plant sale they started as a little fundraiser will soon celebrate its 90th anniversary.

As the Garden Club has grown, its roots remain strong. Several members have been involved since the 1970s. They’ll be at the plant sale this Friday (May 11), just as they have for the past 40 years.

Marge Silk and Nancy Gault will tend the cash registers. (And Marge can add up your bill without one of those new-fangled calculators.)

Judy Sterling — Nancy’s sister-in-law — has sold tomatoes for more than 25 years.

Dottie Fincher’s floral arrangements get more beautiful every year. That’s saying something: She’s been a Westport Garden Club member since 1971.

Marge Silk, Dottie Fincher and Judy Sterling prepare for the Westport Garden Club’s plant sale. (Photo/Ann Pawlick)

Longevity is also a hallmark of the club’s service to Westport. Funds raised at the plant sale support a variety of local projects.

Several began in the 1940s. One is the Nevada Hitchcock Memorial Garden — named for a club founder — at the corner of Weston Road and Cross Highway.

The Kings Highway Cemetery was restored in 1949. It — and 3 others — remain in the club’s care today.

While the Westport Garden Club is proud of its long history, its mission is forward-thinking. Preserving assets for the future, beautification, conservation and environmental education are their watchwords. Members know that planting flowers and trees ensures a better tomorrow.

The club treasures its longtime members, but embraces new ones. For more information, click here.

(The Westport Garden Club plant sale is this Friday, May 11, from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at the Saugatuck Congregational Church — rain or shine.)

Ginormous Plant Sale Set For Friday

How does the Wakeman Town Farm’s garden grow?

With a ton of help from the Westport Garden Club.

WTF has received a $5,000 gift from the WGC — the club’s largest single donation in its 93-year history. Funds will help create perennial gardens, at the newly renovated and enhanced property.

Front: Treaurer Katie Donovan presents the Westport Garden Club’s check to Wakeman Town Farm co-chair Liz Milwe. Top row (from left): Ellen Greenberg, WCG president; Christy Colasurdo, WTF co-chair; Carrie Aitkenhead, farm steward, Kathy Oberman Tracy, plant sale chair.

The grant was made possible by the Garden Club’s annual plant sale. This year’s event — one of Westport’s favorite springtime rituals — takes place on Friday (May 12, Saugatuck Congregational Church, 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.).

After the sale, the club plans to donate any remaining plants to the Town Farm. Members will also help plant and tend the new gardens.

The Garden Club is one of those organizations whose work Westporters constantly admire, even if we don’t know it’s theirs.

Among many other activities, they plant, weed, prune and mulch sites like the Compo Beach entry and marina; Adams Academy; the Earthplace entrance; the Library’s winter garden near Jesup Green; various cemeteries, and the Nevada Hitchcock Memorial Garden at the Cross Highway/Weston Road intersection.

An astonishing array of plants are available on Friday. Among the most popular: “perkies.” These perennials come from local gardens, and thrive in our quirky Connecticut climate.

The Westport Garden Club plant sale is on, rain or shine. Exactly what you’d expect from this intrepid group, who do so much to “grow” our town.

Oh My 06880 — Photo Challenge #90

The Nevada Hitchcock Memorial Garden is hidden in plain sight: on the well-traveled corner of Cross Highway and Weston Road.

Fred Cantor, Susan Schmidt, Bobbie Herman, Barbara Sherburne and Nancy Hunter Wilson all knew that the plaque featured in last week’s photo challenge can be found there.

Then Ellen Greenberg, Louise Ward Demakis, Jerry MacDaid, Morley Boyd and Wendy Crowther all added great information about the pioneering journalist who in 1924 founded the Westport Garden Club. Click here for the photo, and some intriguing history about Nevada. (Though we still don’t know where she got that unique first name.)

This week’s photo has nothing to do with gardening. If you think you know where in Westport you could find this, click “Comments” below.


Oh My 06880 — Photo Challenge #73

Last week’s 2-fer — photos of a boulder surrounded by overgrown brush, and a plaque saying the planting was made possible by the Westport Garden Club — was as tough as the tangled weeds in Bob Weingarten’s shot.

Only 2 “06880” readers — Diane Bosch and Elaine Marino — knew it was hidden in plain site: at the Merritt Parkway Exit 42 commuter parking lot.

The Westport Garden Club didn’t know. But they responded quickly, noting that although they help with plantings, they are not responsible for (non)-maintenance like this. (To see the photos and all guesses, click here.)

This week’s challenge comes courtesy of Joyce Joiner. If you think you know where you’ve seen this colorfully intriguing scene, click “Comments” below.

(Photo/Joyce Joiner)

(Photo/Joyce Joiner)

How Does Your Garden Grow?

Today marked the 5,272nd consecutive rainy/cloudy/blah spring day this month.

But that did not deter the crowds thronging the Westport Garden Club‘s annual plant sale, at Saugatuck Congregational Church.

(Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

(Photo/Betsy P. Kahn)

After all, as every gardener knows: This is perfect planting weather!

Garden Club’s Annual, Perennial Event Set For Friday

Forget the wet weather.

Actually, celebrate it: You don’t have to worry about watering your plants.

Don’t have any to water? You’re in luck!

The Westport Garden Club‘s annual plant sale rolls onto the Saugatuck Congregational Church big, green lawn this Friday (May 6, 9:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m.). Profits from the sale fund scholarships, and help the club maintain many town gardens and historic cemeteries.

Despite the rain (and a few lingering frosts), there’s plenty of stuff for sale.

Last week, Westport Garden Club members divided existing plants (hardy, native perennials), and created new ones.

Last week, Westport Garden Club members divided existing plants (hardy, native perennials), and created new ones.

The wide array features native varieties that thrive in our (varied) Connecticut climate. Some species — like Baptista, wild geraniums, Rudbeckia, Amsonia and Seaside Goldenrod — are not available in commercial outlets.

Those are the same plants the club will use to refurbish Grace Salmon Park on Imperial Avenue. They’ve tended it since the 1970s.

Many of Friday’s perennials come from members’ gardens. Ever since 1994, when then-plant sale chair Pam Weil requested 20 “perky plants” from each member, those donated varieties are called “perkies.”

Perkies remain the mainstay of the sale. In-the-know gardeners stand in line on sale day to get the best ones.

On Friday — like every year — they’ll be there early.

This year, with umbrellas.

Westport Helps Waltersville’s Garden Grow

Westport has a long history with Waltersville School. For years, Staples High School world language students have volunteered at the K-8 facility across the street from the former Father Panik Village in Bridgeport.

Now another group has stepped up. Last spring, the school wanted to transform a barren courtyard into something more inviting. They asked the Westport Garden Club to help.

The low-key — but very committed — 90-year-old organization said “of course!” The result: 4 beautiful perennial gardens.

The Westport Garden Club was joined by Pivot Ministries, a Waltersville neighbor. Labor, design and plants were all donated.

Westporters and Bridgeporters work together at the Waltersville School.

Westporters and Bridgeporters work together at the Waltersville School.

Yesterday’s ribbon-cutting yesterday was a festive affair. School staff, Garden Club members and Pivot Ministries helpers joined together to celebrate.

The opening of Waltersville School this year will be very joyful indeed.

How Our Gardens Grow

You can see the Westport Garden Club‘s work all over town.

In the early 1970s, Ginny Sherwood asked fellow members to reclaim a 3-acre landfill on Imperial Avenue. Her vision of a refuge along the Saugatuck River came true. Today, Westporters love the hidden-in-plain-sight beauty of Grace Salmon Park.

It’s a delightful spot for a walk, picnic or simply a few moments of peace and quiet.

Over the years though, the land has flooded. Vegetation has been lost. It needs improvement.

The Garden Club will once again help. Members are recommending which plants to save, and which native species to add. They’ll provide volunteers to do the labor, and keep Grace Salmon Park looking great.

To accomplish this — and so much more — the club needs funds. They raise money the best way they know how. This year’s annual plant sale is set for Friday, May 8 (9:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m.) at the Saugatuck Congregational Church.

Among the Westport Garden Club's many activities: keeping the Compo Beach entrance looking gorgeous. Members were hard at work recently. (Photo/Ann Pawlick)

Among the Westport Garden Club’s many activities: keeping the Compo Beach entrance looking gorgeous. Members hard at work recently (from left): Roseanne Mihalick, Jane Eyes, Jenny Robson, Debbie Tiede, Lori Meinke, Sue McCabe. (Photo/Ann Pawlick)

The Garden Club is one of those organizations whose work Westporters constantly admire, even if we don’t know it’s theirs. They’re responsible for — among many other things — planting, weeding, pruning and mulching sites like the Compo Beach entry and marina; Adams Academy; the Earthplace entrance; the Library’s winter garden near Jesup Green; various cemeteries, and the Nevada Hitchcock Memorial Garden at the Cross Highway/Weston Road intersection.

We also owe the club thanks for what we don’t see.

In the 1930s — just a few years after its founding — the Westport Garden Club persuaded the town to ban billboards on all local roads.

The prohibition still stands.

So on Friday, buy a plant to support the Westport Garden Club. For nearly 100 years they’ve made our hometown look beautiful — just like home.

Westport Garden Club logo