Westlake Garden Club still blooming after 50 years

Westlake Garden Club charter member Lillian Bialosky, who joined the club in its inaugural year in 1963, shares fond memories of the past 50 years at the Sept. 18 anniversary luncheon.

On Sept. 18, 170 people gathered at Westwood Country Club to support the Westlake Garden Club and help celebrate their 50th anniversary. What follows is a history of the club compiled from recollections of past presidents and a charter member.

In September 1963, an article appeared in the newspaper reporting that a garden club was being formed in Westlake. Lillian Bialosky’s youngest child had started school so it was perfect timing for her to join the newly formed Westlake Garden Club, and she is still a member today. The new club wasted no time in getting involved in community activities. Lillian spearheaded a project with the Westlake Cuyahoga County School for Retarded Children.

She and other club members regularly visited the school to teach garden crafts and plant flowers and bulbs. The children and teachers looked forward to these visits because each child made something unique to take home. In 1970, Lillian and the Westlake Garden Club were recognized with an award from the Garden Club of Ohio for their involvement in this project. The club was also named Garden Club of the Year by the Garden Club of Ohio.

With 88 members in 1968, it was a very active club with bus tours, workshops and members planting flowers at Clague Park. Members were busy with flower shows, plant sales and making decorations for holiday trees at Porter Library and the Cleveland Botanical Gardens. Then, times changed. Young women were not joining the club because they had started careers outside the home. Many women’s organizations disappeared because of declining memberships. Nevertheless, the Westlake Garden Club survived, even though membership dropped below 40 members.

By 1995, club membership had rebounded to 70 members. Around this time, the Cleveland Botanical Gardens had a branch at Beck Center in Lakewood and many club members participated in the various flower shows there. During the past 10 years, the club has had a rebirth with new members and new ideas.

In 2006, the Westlake Garden Club, like many groups that met during the day, was again experiencing a period of decline in membership. Since many women were working during the day, the garden club needed revamping to meet current realities. A combination of appealing to a greater population, providing more stimulating speakers and programs, and concentrating on building good relationships within the club had a positive effect. It should be noted that during this time, the club welcomed its first and second male members – a giant step for a previously all-female organization.

A somewhat typical year in the garden club starts with an Arbor Day tree-planting in a city park or at the library, helping maintain Westlake’s status as a Tree City. Then Planting Day of Hilliard Boulevard flower boxes in May. Memorial Day brings a parade and ceremony at Clague Park, for which the garden club makes a wreath and bouquet. In July, the garden club makes flower arrangements that are displayed in the Clague House during the Antique Show open house. Club members make floral table arrangements for the Westlake in Bloom awards ceremony in August, and for two years now, some club members served as judges of the gardens.

Spring, summer and fall finds garden club members maintaining a Memory Garden they planted in 2005 behind the Westlake Center for Community Services, in memory of members who have passed away. Summer and fall, the club has fundraising projects with garden tours and luncheons. The year ends with decorating a holiday tree for Westlake Porter Public Library. In between, the club meets the first Wednesday of each month, February through December to present educational and entertaining speakers and programs.

Former member and past president, Thea Steinmetz, who for many years wrote a gardening column for the WestLife newspaper, thinks that when you join a club, you should be inspired. The late Lu Walter, garden club member and past president, provided just that for many members. Some years back, she was chosen as the U.S. representative to enter the Chelsea Flower Show in England. Competing against entrants from all over the world, Lu was awarded the Silver Medal. Westlake Garden Club members were very proud of Lu. She also encouraged many club members to get involved in the community just as she was for so many years.

And here we are, 50 beautiful years later. We have joined the digital age with the creation of a first-rate website. Today’s gardening challenge is to educate ourselves and others about sustainability, genetically altered foods, plants and seeds, and the impact the use of chemicals has on soil, wildlife and our water system. The Westlake Garden Club helps support school students who, through enlightened teachers, are learning good gardening practices at an early age, making a difference for the better, moving away from chemicals. With new members and new ideas, the club has experienced somewhat of a rebirth over the past few years.

I have only been a member of the Westlake Garden Club for five years, so when thinking of writing an article on the club’s 50th anniversary, I decided to enlist the help of some past presidents and one of the founding members. Thank you to Lillian Bialosky and the following past presidents for your input to this article: Ann Van Dyke (1991-93), Jackie Crosier (1995-96), MaryAnn Brock (1997-99), Thea Steinmetz (2001-03) and Sally Knurek (2009-11). And thank you to our current president, Regina McCarthy.

In reading these memories, thoughts and impressions of the garden club, I sensed the evolution and growth of the club over the years. The Westlake Garden Club was born in 1963 to fill a need by some women in Westlake to get involved and beautify their surroundings. Today, we strive to fill a need in the Westlake/Westshore community to support education and civic involvement as it relates to the environment, our food and water supply, gardening and horticulture practices and sustainability. 

But, we still manage to have fun; to make friends and promote camaraderie and an enjoyment of gardening and beautification of our homes and community. For more information on the Westlake Garden Club, visit our website at www.westlakegardenclub.org.

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Volume 5, Issue 21, Posted 9:55 AM, 10.15.2013