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At 100, Garden Club Enjoys Day In Sun Lilac Festival, Parade Sprouted In 1938 Thanks To Group’s Work

The weather was perfect for a garden club to celebrate its 100th birthday - sunny, mild, bulbs starting to push shoots through the soil.

Just a few yards from where workers raked straw off Manito Park’s perennial flower beds, a dozen members of the Spokane Floral Association cut cake Monday to mark the start of the club’s second century.

The day meant a lot to the association’s members. Most were in the park’s garden center well before the noon-time start of their anniversary open house.

Their club is the oldest of 21 in Spokane and one of the oldest in the nation, second only to a group in Athens, Ga.

A former president, Ethyl Goodsell, turned her passion for lilacs into making Spokane the Lilac City and getting other clubs to inaugurate the Lilac Festival.

The first lilac parade in 1938 consisted of eight school girls throwing sprigs of lilacs to onlookers from a float, plus seven decorated automobiles, the club history says.

Never a large organization, the association now has 16 members, down from its peak of 35 around the turn of the century.

For the most part, they are older women who share an easy camaraderie and a passion for gardening.

“We’ve lost four members in the last 1-1/2 years due to old age,” says Marilyn Smith, who joined the club 10 years ago so she could drive her aunt, Naomi Baugh, 88, to meetings. “The rest of the ladies are quite active.

“The garden club is changing,” Smith continues, trying to put the small membership into context. “More women work. A lot of these women never worked.”

Although its members are aging, the club does not appear to have a problem finding new women to join.

“I just joined last fall,” says Rose Harris, who moved to Spokane from Walla Walla 3-1/2 years ago. “I’m a gardener from way back. I had an acre back in Walla Walla.”

Harris, who estimates she’s gardened for 50 years, describes her hobby as therapy.

“It’s relaxation,” she says. Gardening was particularly therapeutic during the difficult time when her late husband required kidney dialysis, she adds.

“If I had known about it sooner, I probably would have joined,” chips in Evelyn Jordan, who became a member last year. “I love to garden.”

Sitting with the women are another relatively new member and a prospective pledge, both Californians eager for tips on Northwest gardening.

“I joined because it was totally different gardening with the snow and all,” says Casey Korkus, who moved to Spokane from the Los Angeles area two years ago.

Lilacs don’t do well in California and can take up to five years to bloom, points out Korkus. Rhododendrons also do better here.

“Gardening in California is very different from gardening up here,” adds Ruth Dixon, who moved to Spokane last year from the San Francisco Bay area and plans to join the club.

The shorter growing season is also a big change.

“I was ready yesterday to plant,” says Dixon.

The comparison between the states is interrupted while the sheet cake marking the 100th birthday is cut.

“We’re going to be around for another 100 years,” club President Jayne Steinke promises. “Well, we might not be, but the club will.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo

Tags: History

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Then and Now: Comstock Park

James M. Comstock, born in 1838 in Wisconsin, arrived in Spokane in time to witness the great fire of 1889 and start Spokane Dry Goods with Robert Paterson. It became the Crescent, Spokane’s premier department store for a century. He also worked in real estate and owned other businesses. He served a term as Spokane mayor, starting in 1899. James Comstock died in 1918.