Connellsville Garden Club celebrates 40 years

| Saturday, May 25, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

The Connellsville community can visibly see the efforts of the Connellsville Area Garden Club when it hosts the annual Geranium Festival.

But the club, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary, actively contributes to other projects throughout the city.

The club is hosting the annual Geranium Festival 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. today in the downtown area.

There will be entertainment, food, crafts, and of course, the sale of geraniums.

But this is just one of the many projects the women of the club undertake.

The group was founded by Helen Oglevee Opperman in 1972. An organizational meeting was held in the conference room at Connellsville Area High School on June 10 that year. Regular meetings were then held at Wesley United Methodist Church. There were 15 members the first year, and membership grew to 68 by the next year.

“The purpose of the club was, and remains today, civic beautification. The pink dogwood was chosen as the club flower and green as the club color,” said Bev Oppermann, long-time club member.

One of the club's first projects was to establish Cameron Park, where the Cameron School had stood. Many shrubs, greenery and flowers were planted and a water fountain was installed. Club members continued to beautify the city by planting bulbs at Carnegie Free Library and Highlands Hospital. In 1973, the Connellsville Area Garden Club received the Beautification Award from the Greater Connellsville Chamber of Commerce for its contribution to the beautification of the Connellsville area.

The club's efforts then moved to Veterans Plaza next to City Hall. Several years later a plaque was placed on the plaza in honor of Helen Opperman.

The club held card parties, fashion shows and workshops to pay for the many shrubs and plantings that were needed. In 1975 an annual Garden Christmas Bazaar was begun. Fresh greens, centerpieces and door swags were made by members and sold. Members went out weeks in advance to collect materials to be dried. The club also had a booth at the Historical Society's Antique and Craft Show.

“Club members are dedicated and hard-working. They have even brought a bag lunch to be able to work in flower beds immediately following meetings.” said Oppermann.

In 1976 the club was in the Spirit of '76 parade. Members rode on a float which they had decorated with flowers and some members walked alongside the float handing out seeds of packets to those along the parade route.

In 1978 the club was again awarded the GCCC Beautification Award for its landscaping of the plaza and the grounds around the city's municipal building.

Theresa “Tootsie” Foley, a member since 1979, and her husband Bill, were responsible for the Woodruff tree at Falcon Stadium being trimmed. The garden club, along with two other civic organizations, donated $500 for the English Oak's care and trimming. The tree was planted at the stadium in honor of Connellsville's 1936 Olympian John Woodruff. The Foleys were also instrumental in planting trees at Connellsville Area High School on Falcon Drive and helping to maintain Cameron Park, among other things.

On Arbor Day in 1980, two trees and shrubs were planted at the South Connellsville War Memorial. Each year the club plants a tree in honor of Arbor Day. The location varies.

When the club no longer held the Christmas bazaar and the historical society no longer held its show, the club began making cemetery pillows for Christmas beginning in 2000.

“Originally members would cut down greens and gather the greens used. Recently members have asked townspeople to donate any greens from trimming and cutting of their own trees. This has been a tremendous help to the club and we are most appreciative of those who donate their greens,” said Oppermann.

In 2000 and 2001 the club decorated a room for Christmas at West Overton Museum in Scottdale and more recently has decorated the historical society's Gibson House for Christmas. At the same time members began decorating the plaza at the Connellsville Municipal Building for Christmas and continue to do so each holiday.

In 2000 and 2002 the garden club received the VFW Community Activity Award.

In 2001 club members began planting flowers in planters on the Yough River Bike Trail. Today the club maintains three plots on the trail and is responsible for planting, weeding, trimming and watering them during the summer months.

The Connellsville Bicentennial Committee started the Geranium Festival in 2005. The garden club had a booth at the 2005 and 2006 festivals. At the conclusion of the bicentennial celebrations in 2006, the garden club assumed responsibility for the Geranium Festival. Also that year it sponsored a Garden Contest. It was won by Connie Kaylor. This year, 2013, is the ninth year for the Geranium Festival.

In the early years, the club held garden tours. In 2009, then club President, Nancy Calisti, organized a tour. Tours were also held in 2010 and 2011. Each year the tour consisted of eight local gardens and everyone attending then enjoyed a complimentary luncheon provided by club member Nancy Koller, owner of Nancy's Tea Room. The club plans to have more tours in the future.

Today the garden club is involved in many activities. Members meet every third Wednesday at Trinity Lutheran Church at 10 a.m. Each meeting begins with everyone repeating the Gardener's Prayer.

“We normally have a speaker and the meeting is followed by a lunch served by committee members,” said Oppermann.

There are currently 55 members. President is Linda Ruth. Other officers are Linda Galiardi, first vice president; Carol Basinger, second vice president; Michele Dickman, recording secretary; Connie LaPorte, corresponding secretary and Lynda Witt, treasurer.

Ongoing projects include maintaining the Cameron Park, three plots on the bike trail and the plaza next to City Hall. Members also plant flowers in the spring and place greenery each winter in the light pole baskets on Crawford Avenue and plant and maintain the flowers in the parking lot planters on Pittsburgh Street. Member Judy Sherwood continues to plant flowers at the South Connellsville War Memorial. Various club members contribute articles to the Connellsville Crossroads magazine. The group also has a booth at the annual Mum Festival each fall and assist with the sale of mums. Each May the club takes a bus trip to May Mart.

Dorie Ruck is a charter member of the club and is still active. She is the auctioneer at the greens sale held at the May meeting each year.

As part of the year-long celebration of the club's 40th anniversary, long-time members who are still active were honored. Recognized were Ruck, 1972; Sherwood and Edith Torchio, 1973; Marlene Eicher, 1978; and Foley, 1979. Another long-time member, Betty Williams. who is in her 90s, is a member who participates and drives to the monthly meetings.

“The garden club members would like to say thank you to the community for its support over the past 40 years and remind everyone to join us at the ninth annual Geranium Festival on Saturday,” said Ruth.

Nancy Henry is a freelance writer.

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