Lovely as a Tree
Under Lois Fleckenstein Shuster (C54), the National Garden Clubs stressed civic responsibility, planting millions of trees.

Lois Fleckenstein Shuster

Photo by Esther Chou

Former National Garden Clubs president Lois Fleckenstein Shuster (C54) believes that gardening clubs are more than places to share tips about plants. “They are really service organizations,” she comments. “You don’t plant a tree for yourself. You plant it for the future.”

Along with promoting the love of gardening and floral design, the National Garden Clubs — the largest volunteer gardening association in the world — promotes civic and environmental responsibility. Local clubs plant flowers around buildings, provide college scholarships (the 8,000 clubs in Shuster’s organization donate upwards of $600,000 annually toward scholarships), assist schoolchildren with planting projects and offer horticulture classes. Their garden therapy programs provide feel-and-smell gardens for the blind and raised gardens for people in wheelchairs.

Under Shuster’s leadership, the National Garden Clubs and its foreign affiliates took on an ambitious project of planting 2 million trees in the United States and Central and South America, and surpassed the goal by more than fivefold. In the last two years the national, state and local clubs planted more than 11 million trees in those regions. The national leadership left it up to the local clubs to decide what kinds of trees they’d plant, and where. “I’m sure that in 7 million, we’ve planted every tree there is,” says Shuster.

While noting the civic contributions of gardening clubs, during her two-year tenure as president of the National Garden Clubs Shuster also encouraged the approximately 230,000 members to be self-serving about their own gardens. “Do what’s good for you,” she explained in speaking about the clubs’ “Celebrate Your Garden” theme for the 2002–03 planting season. “If you do what’s good for you, you do what’s good for everybody else.”

Shuster lives in Champion, Penn., where her family owns Seven Springs Mountain Resort. It is only 24 miles from where United Airlines Flight 93 crashed on Sept. 11, 2001. In the days following the tragedy, victims’ families, crisis counselors, the Salvation Army, the news media and airline representatives stayed at the getaway in western Pennsylvania’s Laurel Mountains. The resort served as a safe haven. “It was in the mountains, away from everything, so that people could relax and feel that their privacy was protected,” says Shuster.

At home in Champion, Shuster divides her time between her responsibilities as mayor, a position she’s held since 1965, her family of nine children and 18 grandchildren, and the six-acre garden surrounding her house. As mayor she has officiated at more than 100 weddings, including two of her sons’ weddings, over the last 38 years.

She and her husband, Ray, divide the gardening duties at home. He oversees the vegetable garden, she manages the flowers and together they work on the fruits. In her flower garden Shuster favors daylilies, irises, oriental poppies and peonies. She once had 300 dahlia plants and 200 rose bushes. Each year the Shusters’ fruit and vegetable gardens yield 300 quarts of produce, including red beets, green beans, zucchini, carrots, spinach, asparagus, tomatoes, cabbage, apples, pears, peaches, cherries, blueberries and raspberries. They give most of their harvest away.

— Esther Chou (J03)

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