From her home in rural Montgomery County, Florence Grimm could see the Great Oak at the Arboretum. Although the oak is mostly gone now, the Arboretum is still never far from Florence’s mind.
She readily admitted that she has “history” with the Arboretum. She used to bring her daughters there, and recalled that it was a wonderful place to take children and a picnic lunch – and she believes that it still is. She remembered when Fred Lape was still living in the Farmhouse. She also recollected that, sadly, after Fred’s death in 1985, the property and plantings were neglected and plagued by pilfering and vandalism.
Recognizing that Landis was a unique treasure in jeopardy, Florence and others worked to make the Arboretum a vital organization, with a Board of Trustees and several functioning committees. Florence served two terms on the Board of Trustees. She also headed the Building and Grounds Committee, whose first order of business was to save the deteriorating Farmhouse. It was plagued with water in the basement and rotting floorboards and beams. In addition to the reconstruction, the committee’s volunteers painted the building and restored the shutters. “It was sometimes hard not to be discouraged,” she said. “It seemed just one obstacle after another.” Florence remembers that her committee was blessed with several dedicated members, including Dick Clowe, Jack Fritz, Ron Neadle, Gil O’Brien – and others. “We just clicked,” she said.
Many volunteers came to lend a hand. Chris Cash from SUNY Cobleskill worked to protect Lape’s rhododendron collections from deer – “a monumental task.” Herm Finkbeiner stepped up to help fund the restoration of the historic Barn. Some donated their time to improve drainage and build bridges, while others performing community service did their share.
Florence was the recipient of the 2015 Great Oak Award in recognition of her many years of tireless dedication to the Arboretum. She is still a regular in the propagation room, helping to prepare “Landis Grown” plants for the Spring Plant Sale, and is known for her German precision. “It’s just my background: we raised everything and bought very little,” she said.
But Florence’s life encompasses more than the Arboretum. She is an accomplished weaver and a competitive swimmer. She sews costumes for two theater groups in Albany. She and her husband Bob hike and canoe and ski – “anything outdoors.” She maintains perennial and vegetable gardens. Although she raised most of her family’s food for many years, now, she said, she’s discovered the bountiful farm stands in Schoharie County.
As she and Bob walk the Arboretum’s trails these days, she cherishes all it has to offer: the Ed Miller Native Plant Trail; the rhododendrons in bloom in the spring; the Meeting House view, especially at dusk when the deer come out of the woods; and the many trees she’s “fallen in love with.”
The Arboretum is not all history for Florence. It’s very much a living presence in her life: “No words can express how beautiful it is.”