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The Hondo Garden Club – A History

 The following is a brief history highlighting some of the key points from the beginning.

 On November 9, 1948, a small group of ladies met in the home of Mrs. Nell Richter to organize a garden club in Hondo, Texas.  Their purpose and mission statement was to “beautify and improve their surroundings and to better serve the community.”  Mrs. Nell Richter served as the first president.

 The club was federated with Texas Garden Clubs, Inc., in January, 1950.  The year 2013 marks the 65th year of the Hondo Garden Club, which has maintained a Gold Club rating for most of those years.

 The Club’s first major project, to landscape a one-block area on Highway 90 between Avenue M and Avenue K adjacent to the Southern Pacific Railroad depot, was conceived in 1949, and plans continued into the following year during the Presidency of Mrs. Jane Hardy.  After lengthy negotiations with Southern Pacific officials, approval was granted.  Club members armed with rakes, hoes, and trashcans cleaned the area in preparation for planting.  With the help and direction of the Highway Department landscape division, the planting was completed in 1951, during the tenure of Mrs. Annie Garrison.

 Both the Garden Club and the City of Hondo have received numerous awards for this beautification, as well as favorable comments from throughout the country from appreciative travelers.  The Garden Club assumed the responsibility of maintaining this parkway, even as it expanded through the years to include fourteen blocks along the highway.  The Hondo City Council agreed to furnish a sprinkler system in 1957.

 Maintenance of the Parkway proved quite costly.  In order to raise funds for this and other projects, at the suggestion and guidance of Mrs. Eugenia Lanham and during the presidency of Mrs. Jerry Berger (1953-1954), the Thrift Shop was born.  The present site of the Thrift Shop (site #6) was purchased in 1999.  After more than twenty years of the Garden Club maintaining the parkway, the City of Hondo accepted that responsibility.

 In the early years, the club sponsored the residential Christmas lighting contest which was promoted by the Sears Company.  The $50.00 prize (a significant amount at that time) was awarded for two consecutive years.  Then, there was the national energy crisis.  Everyone was asked to conserve by eliminating unessential lighting.  At the request of the Hondo Chamber of Commerce, the Garden Club began sponsoring the Christmas lighting contest each December in the residential areas, judging the displays, and awarding the prizes.  This event was very popular with the residents of Hondo.

 The Garden Club requested the Blue Star Marker 1950 with an application and a check to the National Garden Club Chairman.  The Blue Star Memorial marker was awarded to the club and placed on the Highway 90 parkway with special plantings.  This Marker is a living tribute to the Nation’s Armed Forces…to the men and women who have served, are presently serving, or will be serving in the future, so that we might continue to live in peace and freedom in America.  The Garden Club maintains the area surrounding the marker.  Upon completion of the Highway 90 road-widening project the marker was again placed on the highway in a re-dedication ceremony on Armed Forces Day, May 19, 2012.  The city block surrounding the Marker was re-landscaped as well as East and West entrances to the City of Hondo where the world-famous “God’s Country” signs are located.  In December, 2012, a time capsule was dedicated in this area to be opened in 25 years.

 The club is continuing with efforts to revitalize the Highway 90 Parkway.  In 2013, a new garden was planted and presented to the City of Hondo as a Valentine Garden from the Hondo Garden Club.   Through the years, many beautification projects have been accomplished.  The Post Office and Municipal Buildings were landscaped in 1965, as well as the Hondo Public Library, and the Medina Memorial Hospital grounds.  The club provided care and upkeep of the Hondo Cemetery for five years and provided and installed Christmas lights at the County Courthouse.

For a number of years, the Club held an annual flower show and later staged specialty shows such as those with art and music combined with floral interpretations.  For the past 24 years, the Club has sponsored the Floral Exhibit at the Medina County Fair.  Members create and enter floral arrangements as well as provide individual specimens for the education and enjoyment of the community.  The club enters the County Fair Parade every year.

For 40 years four therapy programs were held each year at the Medina County Association for Exceptional Citizens Center until the Center closed.  Since 2006, the Club therapy program works with the Hondo High School Life Skills Class annually in their greenhouse facility, which was funded by the Garden Club.  Club members help with plant propagation for the class’s fund raising plant sale.  These programs help the children learn more about plants and the responsibility involved in tending to them as well as interacting with others.

For the past 46 years “Golden Age” teas have been hosted annually around Christmas and Easter at each of the two local nursing homes.  In the spring of 2010, the Club observed our National President’s Project, “Golden Days,” by delivering pots of flowering daffodils to nursing home residents. Members fill baskets with flowers each March the week before the club meeting to be delivered to the nursing homes when the meeting is over.  The flowers are placed in the dining areas for all to enjoy.

The Garden Club holds a plant sale each spring to encourage members of the community to beautify their yards.  Plants are provided by members and sold at a nominal price.  Members also bring plants, which they propagate themselves, to the Club’s Thrift Shop each week for customers to purchase.

For several years a Christmas tree was furnished and decorated with handmade Christmas ornaments for the Memorial Hospital waiting room.  Birdbaths were also placed on the grounds for the patients to enjoy.  Seven Purple Martin houses were purchased and placed at various locations around town, including the hospital.

In 1976, the Garden Club initiated the planting of trees for the observance of our Country’s bicentennial, even before District VII adopted the idea.  One club member (Mrs. Lillian Schweers) provided two hundred Red Oak seedlings that were planted in the community.  Also in 1976, the Texas Forest Service through the Texas A&M University System approved the application for a historical marker for the “Wiemers Oak”.   (Maybelle Wiemers was a club member).  On October 16, 1977, the Garden Club held the dedication ceremony with most members participating.  This beautiful oak is featured in the publication “Famous Trees of Texas.”

Hondo’s Centennial was celebrated in 1982.  The Garden Club sponsored a “King and Queen” contest, complete with a formal coronation, a Ball, and a Blue Ribbon float in the parade.  The club also encouraged local citizens to plant a total of 100 crepe myrtles to commemorate Hondo’s 100th birthday.  A large number of these shrubs were purchased by The Hondo Garden Club and planted along the driveway at Medina Memorial Hospital.  Unfortunately most of these shrubs were destroyed during the hospital’s reconstruction process.

In the late 1960's the Garden Club was instrumental in the purchase and relocation of the old Southern Pacific Depot which is now used as a museum.  Mannequins were donated for the early historical clothing display.  It has become an interesting museum, housing many articles of early Medina County history.  The Club makes annual donations to the Medina County Museum.

The Garden Club has worked with children for many years.  At one time there was a very active Junior Garden Club. Since that time, the Club has sponsored both State and National Garden Club projects of Youth Communication and Environmental Poster contests in local schools, with monetary prizes.  Some posters have even won at the State level.  The purpose of these projects is to make the children more aware of their environment and the need to protect it, and hopefully make them better citizens for the future.  Since the Garden Club began middle school students have also gathered for the annual city-wide clean up drive.  The Garden Club coordinates the drive, furnishes refreshments and supplies, and makes a monetary donation to the school in honor of the Junior National Honor Society.  In 2010, the Club worked with the Gifted and Talented students of Woolls Intermediate School on an “Auntie Litter” project.  Students made posters, poems, videos, and rap songs to increase awareness of Litter Control.  During 2011 and 2012, McDowell Middle School Honor Roll students gathered at the Hondo Nature Trail and Park to participate in the litter clean-up at the new facility.  This year the students moved to the City Cemetery to help beautify the grounds.  Refreshments followed the clean-up activities.

In 1997, the Garden Club created an annual $1,000 scholarship to be presented to a worthy student planning to pursue a study in some form of horticulture, agriculture, landscape design, environmental science, botany, agronomy, or other related fields.  This scholarship follows the student through his or her studies, both undergraduate and graduate fields, as long as a “B” grade point average is maintained.  The scholarship was increased to $1,500 annually in 2011 and again increased in 2013 to $1500 per student per semester, or $3000 annually.  The Club presently has four local scholarship recipients.

In observance of the 50th anniversary the Club donated, installed, and landscaped a very attractive and impressive stone and iron entryway to the Hondo City Park.  The groundbreaking and dedication for this new structure was held October 1998, and was presented to the City of Hondo on November 6, 1998.  The Garden Club still maintains the landscape at this entrance.

In 1999, the Rick Taylor Recreation Center was landscaped.  In the fall of 2001 the Garden Club began the landscaping of a butterfly garden at Woolls Intermediate School.  In 2002 the dream of the Birding and Butterfly Trail was presented to the City.  It would be a few years before this idea took flight.

In May 2003, at the Texas Diamond Jubilee – Crown Jewels of Texas Celebration in Tyler, Texas, President Sue Durrett of the Texas Garden Clubs, Inc., presented Crown Jewel Citation #124 to Hondo’s outstanding member, Mrs. Elaine Bybee in recognition of her commitment and service toward accomplishing the mission of the Garden Club organization.

In 2004, the Garden Club began spearheading the plans for the Nature and Birding Trail in earnest.  Working with the City of Hondo, an application for a grant from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department was submitted and awarded.  Work on the Nature Trail began.  The Hondo Garden Club committed funds and in kind services toward completion of the Trail. The Club donated $52,500 to the City of Hondo for the construction of one of the two gazebos at the Hondo Nature Trail and the establishment of the Nature Trail’s gardens. 

In August 2005, the Guard Station at Hondo High School was landscaped.   In May 2006, the entrance to the Hondo High School’s Barry Field was landscaped in time for graduation exercises.  This area is still maintained by the Garden Club for football season as well as graduation ceremonies.   Also in May, the Garden Club assisted the City in sprucing up the landscaping at Memorial Square for upcoming Memorial Day Ceremonies.  Each Memorial Day, Fourth of July, and Veteran’s Day flags are placed at multiple locations in Memorial Square to honor the Armed Forces of the United States.

In February of 2007, the Garden Club designed and landscaped the Hondo City Swimming Pool area…dedicating this area to past active Garden Club members.   Arbor Day ceremonies in March of 2007 honored all octogenarians in the Club, and a tree was planted in honor of each.  The Hondo Garden Club has celebrated Arbor Day every year of its 65 year history.

In 2010 work began in earnest on the Gardens.  An Ad Hoc Committee was established and the design and plant selection of the Gardens at the Nature Trail began.  The planting of the Children’s Garden, the Vision Impaired (Sensory) Garden, the Xeriscape Garden, and the Wetlands Garden has been completed.  The Grand Opening of the Nature Trail and Park was held July 16, 2010.  The community turned out in force to celebrate the City’s newest addition.  The Hondo Nature Trail is part of the City of Hondo’s Master Parks Plan.  In 2011, plans were begun for a new entrance to the Nature Trail utilizing large boulders as hardscapes.  This project was completed in 2013 with the entrance signs reading “Hondo Garden Club - Quality of Life Project” … “Hondo Nature Trail and Park.”  A special entrance to the garden area was also constructed which is flanked by large boulders on each side.

In 2013, three ornamental pear trees and stone benches were provided to McDowell Middle School in celebration of Arbor Day.   The Garden Club has been working with all schools in the Hondo Independent School District to establish Backyard Wildlife Habitats on the school campuses to generate student interest in this environmentally friendly concept.   In 2008 the Hondo Garden Club became a sponsor of the Hondo Education Foundation.  The Foundation awards grants to Hondo ISD teachers submitting requests they hope will further the potentials of their students.  Monies are donated to this very worthwhile foundation annually. 

The Club was honored as “Volunteer of the Year” by the Hondo Area Chamber of Commerce in February, 2009.

Through the years, the Hondo Garden Club has followed the guidelines set forth by the National and State Garden Clubs, Inc., and participated in the projects they have outlined.  Hondo has hosted five District Conventions in 1971, 1977, 1984, 1996, and 2008.  Several members have held various offices and chairmanships at both the District VII and State levels…Mrs. Elaine Bybee, Dr. Hazel Taylor, Mrs. Lillian Schweers, Mrs. Margaret Haegelin, Mrs. Doris Saathoff, Mrs. Elsie Rothe, Mrs. Lee Taylor, Mrs. Ellen Stevens, and Mrs. Mary Massena.  Mrs. Lee Taylor was installed as District VII Director for the 2013-2015 term. 

The Hondo Garden Club has received awards that are far too numerous to list.  The most significant ones are probably in the area of Civic Development, such as the National Cleanest Town contest (three times), working with exceptional children, Hondo Chamber of Commerce award for Outstanding Organization, and the continuous Gold Club rating from the Texas Garden Clubs, Inc.  In 2011 the Hondo Garden Club was named the runner-up Garden Club of the Year for Texas Garden Clubs, Inc.  The club won a National Award for Yearbook in 2012 as well as awards for National Garden Week and Blue Star Memorial Highway Marker Landscape Design in 2013.

In 2012 the Hondo Garden Club worked with the City of Hondo and the Chamber of Commerce to submit application through the Texas Municipal League for the “City Pride” award.  One of the key elements in this application was the newly landscaped area along Highway 90 which was made possible by the Hondo Garden Club. In honor of National Garden Week in 2013, the Garden Club landscaped the new South Texas Regional Training Center entrance esplanade to welcome students and visitors.  For Christmas, 2013, club members provided and decorated a tree for the Medina County Family Life Center and furnished gifts for those staying at the Center during Christmas time.

Monetary contributions of sizeable amounts have been made throughout the years to worthwhile community projects including:  Friends of the Library, Medina Community Healthcare Fund, Medina County Museum, Hondo Volunteer Fire Department, Community EMS, The Cemetery Fund, Child Care Board, Association for the Handicapped, Special Olympics, Medina County Family Life Center, Salvation Army, Goodwill Industries, Ronald McDonald, Hondo High School Greenhouse Fund, Sponsorship of Youth Projects, Hondo “Pride,” Bluebonnet Children’s Center, Lions Club, Hondo Area Chamber of Commerce, Medina County Nutrition Center, Medina County Food Pantry, Make a Wish Foundation, Hondo Ministerial Alliance, HANK, Inc., Hondo Economic Development Corporation, Devine Area Health and Hospice Resource, Hondo Nature Trail, City of Hondo as needed or requested, and  many other organizations as needed or requested  amounting to many thousands of dollars.

All of this is made possible by the dedicated service of the Garden Club members who continue to volunteer their time and energies to operate the Thrift Shop.  This service provides a twofold purpose… besides the money made that is given back to the community, the Thrift Shop helps those in need clothe their families and purchase small household items at a tremendous savings.

So you see...the original purpose of the Hondo Garden Club is still being fulfilled ...to beautify and improve our surroundings and to better serve our community.

We are thankful for those who have gone before us and are proud to carry on the traditions they began for those who will follow.

 Written & Submitted by:  Mrs. Elaine Bybee and Mrs. Lee Taylor