It was 1959. The DuPont plant had just opened in Tecumseh.
And Virginia Williams and some fellow wives of DuPont workers were convinced they would teach the nasty Kansas soil a thing or two.
“We didn’t know you could grow in Kansas,” Williams says. “It was nothing but a dust bowl in all the books we read.”
They proved those history books wrong.
And 50 years later, the organization they founded — the Green Thumb Garden Club — is still going.
The group will celebrate its five-decade tenure with a dinner and time to reminisce Saturday. They’ll talk about the countless flower arrangements, gardening tips and laughs they’ve shared through the years.
“It’s like a family,” says member Ruth Sleeper. “We know everybody’s kids and grandkids.”
What started as a club of 25 young women has dwindled to around 17. Though the group has aged, it has welcomed some new younger members. Williams is the lone founding member still involved.
The club meets once a month in a member’s home to discuss various gardening topics. It once held monthly flower shows, but those have dwindled down to a couple times a year.
It also has performed many service projects, including planting flowers around town, placing identification labels on plants and trees at the Prairie Park Nature Center and donating money raised through a yearly plant sale to plant-friendly charities.
Members also keep yearly scrapbooks — a requirement to be affiliated with the Kansas Associated Garden Clubs Inc.
All the while, they make and keep good friends.
It’s a Monday morning, and a few of the members have gathered to chat about their group.
“Ruth takes all the money from the fair,” Williams says, referring to Sleeper’s winning floral arrangements winning premiums.
“Only because nobody else enters,” Sleeper shoots back.
These are ladies who love gardening and floral arranging, paying attention to such details as how the flowers curve within an arrangement.
“Young people are so busy with kids and hobbies,” says member Phyllis Ogburn. “They don’t have time to garden.”
Sleeper interjects another culprit: “Who’s that lady? The one who just cuts flowers and sticks them in a vase?”
“Martha Stewart is ruining all of it,” Sleeper says.
“We follow the principles of art,” Williams explains. “Lines, color, space.”
It’s clear that for a hobby that’s a lot of work, they have a lot of fun talking about it.
That makes celebrating 50 years a little bittersweet, as they wonder about the group’s future. Other garden clubs have disappeared in recent years.
“It’s really kind of sad we’ve almost dissolved,” Ogburn says.
But that’s not happening yet — not as long as these ladies love gardening.
Williams describes her love of the hobby this way: “It’s almost as good as eating potato chips.”