History of the New England Chapter, The Gesneriad Society 1961-1986, by Alice Courage
The New England Chapter was founded by Michael Kartuz of Wilmington, Massachusetts, and his sister Sonja (Mrs. John Cuneo, Jr.).
In 1960, Mike and his sister lived in New York and were active members of the Greater New York Chapter. At the spring meeting that year, they announced plans to move to Massachusetts and eventually go into the greenhouse business. They also expressed the desire to form a New England Chapter once they were settled.
Their first step was taken by entering an educational exhibit in the Massachusetts Horticultural Society's 1961 Spring Flower Show. Frank Burton constructed the exhibit background at his home in Connecticut and transported it to Massachusetts. While Frank worked on the staging, Sonja and Mike were growing and grooming gloxinias and other gesneriads to be exhibited in the show. They alternately hosted the exhibit for the eight days and evenings that the show was open. They distributed membership forms, which brought thirty interested people to the first official meeting of the New England Chapter. It was held at the Kartuz home in Wilmington on September 16, 1961. For their Spring Flower Show exhibit, the hard-working brother and sister team were awarded three prizes: a first place, a silver medal and a monetary award, thus establishing the treasury.
By-laws were drawn up in 1963. The chapter became an affiliate of the American Gloxinia Society, Inc. (its name at that time) and was granted a chapter on September 18, 1964.
Six to eight meetings a year were held at various locations, including members' homes, until a long-term meeting place was established at the University of Massachusetts Suburban Field Station, Waltham, Massachusetts.
Many meetings were held at the Kartuz residence. The history of the chapter cannot be written without mention of Mrs. Kartuz who presided over her kitchen and her ever-bountiful table of homemade delicacies with the utmost grace and gentility. "Mama" as she was affectionately called by all, was petite in stature but a giant spreading her charm, warmth and good humor. Her memory will always be in the hearts of those who knew her.
Dues in 1961 were set at $1.00 per year. By the 25th Anniversary, dues had increased to $6.50; but, to cover chapter expenses, income from plant sales, raffles, auctions and other sources were needed.
In 1961, the chapter undertook an ambitious project, accepting an invitation from the Massachusetts Horticultural Society to present two exhibits. One was a display of 'Gloxinias" (Sinningia speciosa) and the other a staged display of "Other Gesneriads." This was an excellent opportunity to promote one of the lesser known plant families. Three prizes were earned: a first place, a second and a Special Cultural Award. Following its initial exhibit, the New England Chapter entered the New England Spring Flower Show for many years, winning many awards and citations. The ultimate was captured in 1972 when the chapter received a first prize and two gold medals: one from MHS for 'Exceptional Merit" and one from the Horticultural Society of New York for "cultural excellence for a group of plants."
The special event of 1963 was a combined meeting with the Greater New York Chapter held at Buell's Greenhouses in Eastford, Connecticut, on June 8th. It was a fun-filled day visiting with members from New York, viewing thousands of blooming gesneriads, many unknown to us, and enjoying a sumptuous New England-style luncheon served by the Ladies' Auxiliary of the Congregational Church for $1.25!
In June 1964, a return visit was made of the Buell's Greenhouses, to attend AGGS Day. Over 100 members and their families from Greater New York, New England and Connecticut Chapters were greeted by AGGS President William Hull and by Diantha and Albert Buell. Thousands of Buell's hybrid florist-type gloxinias were in full bloom in one huge house. The sight was awesome! We immediately understood why Al Buell is known as "Mr. Gloxinia." A special invited guest was Ulrich Englert from Germany, who was touring gesneriad houses in America. Over the years, the Buells have been generous, sharing their knowledge and presenting programs to their chapter.
In September 1965, the chapter held its first judged flower show. Ninety-five entries were attractively staged. Judges were Dr. Carl Clayberg and William Hull from Connecticut, Paul Dechenes and Mike Kartuz. Following the show, the need for a larger number of qualified judges was recognized. The first series of Judges' Workshops were held locally with Frances Batcheller as the instructor. The first national Judges' School was held at the AGS Convention in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, in 1970. For many years, Frances served as AGS Show and Judges Chairman and conducted a Judges' School at convention.
The New England Chapter was host to the AGGS 10th Convention and Flower Show and 15th Anniversary celebration July 1-3, 1966. It was held at the Lexington Motor Inn (now Dunfey's). Alice Courage served as Local Convention Chairman, working with Irwin Rosenblum, the AGGS Convention Chairman. Estelle Crane was the Flower Show Chairman. A special citation was awarded to AGGS from the Mass. Horticultural Society for 'excellence in plant quality and new introductions." Excellent publicity brought busloads of visitors to view the show. A treat for all in attendance was a trip to the Kartuz Greenhouses where they were served homemade desserts by "Mama' Kartuz and her assistants.
At this convention's annual business meeting, a milestone was reached. The membership voted unanimously to change the name of the society from The American Gloxinia Society, Inc. to the American Gloxinia and Gesneriad Society, Inc.
The hard-working New England members were highly commended for their efficiency and for their display of true Yankee hospitality extended to the conventioneers. The event was brought to a close with an authentic New England clambake cooked in a pit constructed on the ground of the Inn especially for this occasion.
The New England Chapter hosted two other AGGS conventions. The second was held in 1973 in Wakefield, Massachusetts, with Ruth Webster serving as Local Convention Chairman and Alice Courage as Show Chairman. The third was held in Danvers, Massachusetts, with Alice Courage Convention Chairman and Clorinda Temple Show Chairman. Both events were a great success.
As chapter members became more knowledgeable in the study of gesneriads, they decided that an informative monthly newsletter would be beneficial to them and to the new members. In 1970, Rene White was elected Editor for this publication, which she subsequently named "Bells and Slippers." In the mid-seventies, a project called the "Little Show" was begun. It gave the members an opportunity to bring a plant to the meeting and have it critiqued by a panel of judges. This proved to be a popular and educational project, and it has continued.
In 1977, the "Gesneriad Register" names and describes species and hybrids of the genus Nematanthus. Here is found a list of many of the hybrids that were created by Bill Saylor of Brewster, Massachusetts. Bill, a member of the chapter, enthralled us many times with excellent programs on hybridizing and also an advanced look at new creations he was about to introduce. Nematanthus 'Tropicana', 'Rio' and 'Black Magic', still favorites, are just a few of his many introductions.
It should be noted that many members who join this chapter start with little knowledge about the gesneriad family. They soon become well-versed on the subject through programs, shows and workshops that the chapter offers. By studying and asking questions of the group's experts, one can become quite knowledgeable about the members of the Gesneriaceae.
Every person who had joined the New England Chapter since its inception has left a mark. Many dedicated people have unselfishly given of themselves-- their time, efforts and talents toward the growth and success of this organization.
Come join us at our monthly meetings - 12 Noon to 4PM 1st Sunday of the month (October thru June) POMpositticut Community center, 509 Great Road (route 117) Stow, MA. 01775