Gardening, Beautification and Restoration 

‘Rays of Sunshine Among the Singing Sands of the Dunes’

By Dick Meister with contributions from Lois Braatz, Dorothy Kurtz, and Dena Green.  Special thanks for those who have added to the Garden Club Archives, including Christine Craig, Dena Green, Hank Kazmier, Betsy and Marion Kovacik, Susan Mihalo, & Jenifer Wilson 

On October 7 the Historical Society celebrated the opening of its 2nd annual exhibit, Gardening, Beautification and Restoration, under the theme, “Building Community Spirit”.    The curators for the exhibit are Marie Englehart and Dick Meister. 

The Henry ‘Hank’ Kazmier Exhibit Fund, established by Danielle Kazmier Bradley and Ronald Bradley in memory of her father, Hank Kazmier, provided financial support for the exhibit.   Hank, an Ogden Dunes resident and activist, devoted nearly fifty years of his life to enhancing community spirit in Ogden Dunes.   One of his many contributions was opening his beautiful and creative gardens at 141 Shore Drive for five garden walks, sponsored by the Garden Club of Ogden Dunes from 1995 to 2006.    

This exhibit focuses on the many activities of the Garden Club from 1974 until 2011, especially its role in establishing the Town Gardens.  In addition the exhibit includes the contributions of many non-garden club volunteers in maintaining the Town Gardens, in restoring Long Lake Marsh, beginning in 2007, and in establishing the Ogden Dunes Community Garden in 2015 in Nelson Reck Park.   

The program on October 7 began with Dick Meister’s brief power-point photo presentation, followed by the sharing of stories relating to gardening, beautification and restoration.   The exhibit will be opened during the November 18 Recognition/Thank You program and the Christmas Tea on December 2.  You may also contact any board member of the Historical Society to give you or your group a private tour.  The Historical Society continues to be interested in collecting any photos or written materials that you might wish to donate relating to the topics covered by the exhibit.   

Early efforts at balancing residential living and nature: 

Beginning in 1925 with the establishment of the Town of Ogden Dunes, residents have come together to seek a balance between residential living and living in and with nature.   This is seen in the contour of the Town’s  roads, the sensitivity in locating home sites in the dunes and the continual efforts to live with and protect nature.   

This exhibit provides an overview of the broad community efforts in promoting “the interest in and knowledge about gardening and conservation and in furthering home and civic beautification.”   This purpose was articulated with the establishment of the Garden Club of Ogden Dunes on October 16, 1974.   

Early efforts to live with and protect nature is seen Ethel Munson Durfee’s mobilization of the community to eradicate invasive species during the 1930s.   Her cottage, “Columbine Hill”, at 18 Sunset Trail was always surrounded by flowers and native plants.  

One of Ogden Dunes most famous residents was Orlin Denton Frank, a nationally known botanist who taught at the University of Chicago High School.  O.D. and Tillie Frank built their “Hour Glass” cottage in 1933 and made it their full-time residence in 1944.  O. D. Frank’s garden, located south of U.S. 12, provided fresh vegetables for the community.   In 1978 one active member of the Garden Club recalled, “There was a time when you could walk down Lupine Lane and buy fresh produce from a picnic table and the farmer raising the tomatoes and corn was none other than O.D. Frank, professor of biology at the University of Chicago High School.”  


O.D. Frank’s Garden Table on Lupine Lane 1956

During World War II residents came together to establish ‘Victory Gardens’ in what is today’s Kratz Field.  After the War residents continued to work individually or in groups on gardening and beautification projects.   George Svihla captured this most vividly as he transformed the sand dune behind his home on Ogden Road into a productive vegetable, fruit, and flower garden through composting.  

In the mid-fifties a group of women proposed to the Town Board the establishment of an Ogden Dunes Garden Club to support civic beautification.  Instead, the Board recommended that this effort be under the umbrella of the Woman’s Club with O.D. Frank acting as the liaison with the Town Board.  

Twenty years later 29 Ogden Dunes’ women came together to establish the Garden Club of Ogden Dunes on October 16, 1974. The Club became federated with the national and state Garden Clubs on January 28, 1975.  Emma Biermann was elected its first president.  One of the Club’s most active members over the course of its history was Mary Scheff.  Mary served as president for three terms and as chair of various committees. She also was the leading force in maintaining the Town Gardens.  Mary later served as an officer of the regional and state federations of garden clubs.  Mary’s brief history of the Garden Club is included in this newsletter.  

The charter for the Ogden Dunes Garden Club listed three goals: 

  1. To promote interest and knowledge in gardening and conservation
  2. To promote home beautification
  3. To promote civic beautification 

To accomplish the first goal, the Club met on the second Wednesday of each month at 7:30 in a member’s home.  Membership was limited to 30 women. The gathering consisted of a short business meeting, a program and then a reception.  The host was assisted by a co-host.   For example, on October 11, 1978 the program was hosted by Helen Dietz, the niece of O. D. and Tillie Frank, and Edna Harris at the ‘Hour Glass Cottage’.   Gene Coleman of the Audubon Society of Gary presented the program. In 1978 the Club offered seven field trips, including a visit to Jasper-Pulaski Game Preserve.    

By 1991 the programs were usually held at the Community Church.   In June the program, “Flower Arranging”, was hosted by Vivienne Muntean and Helen Willard.    Among the field trips that year was a Long Lake hike to view the migrating birds. 

By 2004 the programs were held in the Board Room of the Town Hall because of declining number of members.   The program on September 8, “Avian Adventures” by Park Ranger Cliff Goins, was co-hosted by Carolyn Saxton and Helen Willard. 

Although the Club’s membership was made up of women, the women did invite men on the field trips and their annual parties, especially the New Year’s Eve parties at the Fire House and pool parties at the home of Hyllis and Bernie Fantone.  

Each year the Club published a Membership Booklet with a cover that was usually a work of art or a photo.   The booklet also included the programs and field trips for the year, the list of members, the officers, the list of past presidents and members who had died.    


1978 Membership Booklet, designed by member Vivienne Muntean

The Club was successful in publicizing its programs, projects, and activities.   


Officers 1995: Martha Campbell, Emma Biermann, Christine Kostel, Courtney Van Lopik

In addition to having an ambitious list of programs and activities, the Club’s members in the early 1980s showed their artistic creativity by building flower floats for the annual Memorial Day parades in Ogden Dunes. 


Town Marshal Ed Moore on tractor pulling Garden Club Memorial Day 1980

To achieve the Club’s second purpose, ‘Promoting Home Beautification,’ members came together to work on garden/nature related arts and crafts, usually in Mary Scheff’s basement on Woodland.  Many of these were sold at the Women’s Club Holiday Bazaar held each November.  The proceeds of these sales, along with bulb and flower sales, also supported the Club’s third purpose, civic beautification, i.e. the Town Gardens.  


Holiday Bazaar 1995 Anna Lee Hoodem

By the late 1990s the success of such fairs faded, as well as the ability of many members to spend a lot of time making crafts.   This led the Club to expand their local garden walk into one advertised throughout Northwest Indiana, thus making the annual walk its major fundraiser.  [In the next issue of Newsletter will be an article on the Garden Walks from 1998-2006.] 

The Club also utilized the monthly programs as a way of sharing what works in gardening.   Each summer one or two programs featured visits to the successful flower or vegetable gardens of members or their neighbors.  For example, the Club visited the organic garden of Don and Dorothy Kurtz in 1978.   In 1980 the Club visited George Svihla’s garden.   This visit was featured in the Portage Press,  ‘Botanist Makes a Garden Grow in Sand Dune.’  

“Secluded in a valley surrounded by sand dunes is a lush garden producing raspberries, strawberries, rhubarb, morel mushrooms, peas, carrots, lettuce, Chinese cabbage, cucumbers and parsley amidst marigolds, tulips, and profusion of wild flowers.  Thirty years ago this area was a sand blowout.  By using leaf mulch, collected from nearby trees, George has created this garden in the midst of the dunes.  This year he had to install an electrical fence to protect his garden from the increasing number of deer.”  

These summer programs evolved into an organized ‘garden walk’ in 1994 for members and neighbors in Ogden Dunes with five gardens on the first walk.  Because this effort was successful, in 1998 the Club expanded its efforts in generating ticket sales by organizing its first public garden walk and bulb/plant sale, featuring six gardens each year in Ogden Dunes.  These walks continued until 2007 and became the major fundraisers to support the third goal, ‘To Promote Civic Beautification.’   

In the 1970s the Garden Club raised funds and provided volunteers “to promote civic beautification” by establishing and maintaining the Town Gardens.  Mary Scheff was a leader in maintaining the Town Gardens.  The three original gardens were the areas in front of the Entrance/Marshal’s Office, the triangle on the east side of Hillcrest and Diana Road, at that time called the Water Department garden, and the area around the Bulletin Board in front of the Fire Station.   Later additional gardens were established on the east and west sides of Hillcrest at the entrance along the Amtrak and South Shore tracks. 

For nearly forty years, the Garden Club’s efforts to maintain the Town Gardens were supported by volunteers as well as by other organizations and departments, including the Home Association, the Women’s Club, the Lion’s Club, the Community Fund, the Park Board and the Street Department.   Residents, who were not members of the Garden Club, also donated their time and money to support the Town Gardens.  

The article, “Club Maintains Town’s Gardens” in the Portage Press on July 8, 1982 includes a photo showing Mary Scheff, Phyllis Greinwald, Helen Dietz and Kay Hastings weeding and planting.   That year the Garden Club also led the development of a new garden at the entrance at an estimated cost of $2,000.  It received $250 from the Women’s Club, as well as donations from the Home Association and the Park Board.  The Garden Club also assisted at the annual Christmas Tree lighting, sponsored by the Women’s Club.   


In May of 1983 Bill Cunningham, president of the Home Association, announced that Mary Scheff would head the Home Association’s Beautification Committee.  The Association pledged to support the Town Gardens, to establish gardens on Home Association property, and to fund the eradication of poison ivy and vines growing on trees in town parks.  

In 1986 Courtney Van Lopik, who was active in the Garden Club, regularly contributed articles and photos on Ogden Dunes for the Portage Press.  An example of this was her article, “Volunteers fewer, far from gone.”  Through the 1990s the Garden Club continued to provide volunteers but these efforts were increasingly supported by other community residents and organizations.    


Town Garden 1991 Okone, McLemore, Suchy


Bulletin Board Garden 1994 

Though the Town Board has the ultimate responsibility for the gardens, many organizations besides the Garden Club were involved.  In 1995 the President of the Home Association, William Dittrich, wrote the Garden Club regarding the Front or Town Hall Garden.  He stated that the Town and the Park Board had given the Home Association responsibility for the gardens and park properties.  And the Home Association had in turn agreed to give responsibility for the Town Hall Garden to the Garden Club as long as it could maintain it.  

However, over time as the number of volunteers significantly decreased, the Garden Club turn to employing professional garden maintenance companies to do much of the work on the gardens.  Finally, on June 7, 2010 Christine Craig, as president, wrote the Town Board that the Garden Club could only maintain its role in the Town Gardens if it received another $1,500.   She wrote, “We have reached a point where most of our membership is physically unable to work in the gardens.  Our efforts for volunteers have not been successful.  Your additional funds will allow us to hire professional garden services and to obtain shrubs that will reduce the work needed to keep the gardens attractive.”  

In response the Town Board made the decision that the Town Beautification Committee would coordinate the volunteers for the town gardens with the Garden Club, in reality Dena Green, being responsible only for the Berm Garden, that is the garden just north of the railroad and west of Hillcrest.  This was sometimes referred to as Dena’s garden since it was established when Dena was president. 

By 2007-2008 with fewer members to support and organize a garden walk, the Garden Club sponsored a Summer Tea as its major fundraising effort.  The tea was held at the home and gardens of Dena Green and Neil Worden with Christine and Herb Craig acting as co-hosts.    


Garden Club Tea 2008 

Despite its efforts, the Garden Club was not able to remain a viable organization. It appears from notes provided by Christine Craig, the last president of the Garden Club, that 2010-2011 was the Club’s last active year.  The archival materials received from Christine Craig document the last days of the Garden Club.   In 2010 only 17 members paid their $20 dues. Christine served as president, Libby Grandfield as secretary, and Martha Bonander as treasurer.  The Committee chairs that year were: Hospitality, Lorraine Gorski; Publicity, Alexia Trzyna; Civic Beautification and, Director of Gardens, Dena Green, and Phone Tree, Laura Mallonee.   Dena and Neil Worden continued for another six years their efforts to maintain the Berm garden.  Dena also arranged for the transfer of the remaining Garden Club’s funds to the Town Beautification Committee.    

According to Dorothy Kurtz, who was a long-time garden volunteer, it was Nancy Van Santen who, in the 1990s, began the practice of decorating the Town entrance in the fall with cornstalks, mums, and pumpkins.  Nancy then in December added greenery, holiday decorations and lights on the Town Hall.   During these years Garden Club members, such as Mary Scheff, Marion Kovacik, Courtney Van Lopik and Connie Richter, made sure that the holiday wreath was hung.  

Nancy Van Santen also came up with the idea for a garden at the train station.  This garden would be known as the Depot Garden, with the little electrical building being painted like brick and labeled as a depot for Ogden Dunes.   Terri Bardeson was the artist involved in this project.  The Garden Club assisted in the funding and in providing some volunteers.  

Dorothy also shared other stories about the work of other groups of volunteers.  At one time the volunteers called themselves the ‘Midnight gardeners’ because they worked under the lights.  Later a group that included Carol Shendrick, Aurelia Costanza, Gerry Lehmann, Kitty Cozza, Judith Stiles, Judy Selund, and Jill Worth worked Thursday mornings, weeding, planting and watering.   To insure a supply a water Judith Stiles organized a group of residents who donated funds to run a water line to the Depot Garden.  Their names are on the large rock on the east side of Hillcrest at the entrance.   


The Depot Garden 2018