ARS History

History of the Founding of the ARS and Major Awards

Lists: Presidents, Executive Secretaries, Executive Directors, ARS Chapters

As early as 1931 Guy Nearing wrote to Joe Gable:  "We really need a rhododendron society in this country." [19]  World War II helped bring the ARS into the world, because it interrupted most British rhododendron activities, on which the founders of the ARS were quite dependent.  In September, 1940, Guy complained to Joe Gable that his letter to the British Rhododendron Association took so long to get there that the seeds he had hoped to purchase were all sold and the yearbook no longer available:  "Under the circumstances, it might be worthwhile to launch an American Rhododendron Association, and try to keep up the interest until the British one resumes." [19]

George Grace and John Henny travelled up and down the coast of the Pacific Northwest in 1942 and 1943 talking to rhododendron growers trying to kindle interest in a rhododendron society.  As ARS Editor Rudolph Henny recalled it, "The founding members had met on the day of the great invasion of Europe (June 6, 1944)." [6]  Those in attendance were: E. R. Peterson, George Grace, W. G. Tucker, H. H. Harms, John Bacher, John Henny, and Rudolph Henny.  All of these men had outstanding collections of rhododendrons.

It was agreed at this meeting that this newly formed group be known as "The Rhododendron Society."  It was agreed to meet only four times a year, and the officers elected on this date were:  John Henny, President; George Grace, Secretary; and E. R. Peterson, Treasurer.  John Bacher declined the vice presidency, but declared "A day to be remembered in horticultural history." [6]  W. G. Tucker was extended the honor of having membership card number one.  It was also agreed that evening to have the first public meeting in September.  In the meantime both large Portland dailies, the Oregonian and the Journal, were given the story of the new organization and articles appeared in the Garden Sections of both.  In September of that year about forty persons attended the first meeting in the auditorium of the Public Service Building in Portland.

The two great national gardening magazines, "The Flower Grower" on the East Coast, and "Sunset" on the West Coast mentioned the formation of the Rhododendron Society and almost immediately applications for membership were received from many States. [6]  In a few months after this first public meeting the membership was well over one hundred and fifty members.  The name "The American Rhododendron Society" was adopted.

At the fall meeting some other details were discussed:

On January 9, 1945, the articles of incorporation of the American Rhododendron Society were signed.  The Oregon Journal underwrote the cost of incorporating the new group.  All board members were from Oregon and Washington.  The first annual meeting was held in Portland, Oregon, and featured an extensive collection of blossoming plants and cut trusses.

Within six months the ARS began the tradition of an annual Rhododendron Show with a non-competitive exhibition of blossoming plants on Park Avenue in front of the art museum in downtown Portland.  The exhibition included collections of cut trusses from as far away as Bremerton, WA, and Eureka, CA.  Twenty to twenty-five thousand persons visited the grounds.  Each variety was clearly labeled.  Soon the membership grew to over 1700 including members from many foreign countries.

The ARS published a series of informative yearbooks on Hybrids (1945), Species (1946), Stud Book (1947) Azaleas (1948), and Hybrids again in 1949.  It started a quarterly bulletin in 1947 and in 1949 the membership chose to focus the ARS's efforts on the quarterly Bulletin, edited by Rudolph Henny.

The 1948 Rhododendron Show held in the old armory in downtown Portland was truly an extravaganza.  A 30-foot waterfall cascaded from the balcony to the lower floor, where it meandered in a stream before being pumped again to the balcony.  Hybrid and species rhododendrons were artistically placed along the banks.  The show was aesthetically beautiful, but it was a financial failure and that plunged the ARS into debt.  The $1,000.00 deficit was made up by contributions from the show exhibitors.  In January 1949 new leadership was voted into office, with Claude I. Sersanous the new president.

When the ARS was created, all members were members-at-large of the society.  The meetings were held in Portland, Oregon.  75 members and prospective members from the east coast attended a meeting at the Essex House in New York on Oct. 30, 1949, to form the "Eastern Division of the ARS". [1]  Donald L. Hardgrove was elected secretary.  This development led to a proposal for local chapters for members too far from Portland.  In 1951, the by-laws were revised to include local chapters.  The next year the society approved affiliation of the Eugene, Middle Atlantic (Virginia), New York, Seattle, and Tacoma chapters.

In 1952, at the request of the board, C. T. Hansen designed a medal to be awarded to individuals for their outstanding contributions to the genus Rhododendron in its various phases.  The first recipient of this Gold Medal was President Sersanous "for outstanding meritorious service." [4]  Early in 1953 Joseph B. Gable received the second, "in grateful acknowledgment of 30 years of accomplishment in the investigation and hybridization of the Rhododendron genus."  Joseph F. Rock was the third recipient in April 1954 "in grateful acknowledgment of his horticultural work as a plant explorer and achievement in the discovery of new and valuable species of the genus Rhododendron." [23]  [See list of Gold Medal Award recipients.]

With the growth of the organization it became necessary to establish chapters where increased membership was centralized.  With the constantly increasing interest in rhododendrons more chapters were added as needed.  In 1952, the centers of interest were along a narrow strip of the West Coast from British Columbia to Southern California, and along the East Coast from Massachusetts to Georgia, with a good representation of states in between.  Some 23 states were represented in the membership as well as Canada, England, Holland, and New Zealand.

In early 1952, chapters were approved in Seattle, Tacoma, and Eugene.  By mid-1952, chapters were approved in New York and Richmond.  The directors suggested that Portland, which was the home to all previous ARS meetings, form its own chapter.  Portland was not fully recognized as a chapter until 1955: in the interim it was "the ARS."   Its leaders did double duty as chapter and national officers.  In addition they oversaw the national test garden at Crystal Springs Lake Island, which was later turned over to the Chapter to manage.  However, the Portland Chapter did not exist until 1955 when it finally drew up bylaws.  Then in 1955, the members in Portland formed the Portland Chapter. 

By 1964, the ARS had nearly 1000 members with chapters at Portland, Seattle, Tacoma, Eugene, Northern California, New York and Virginia (called Middle Atlantic).  A plant-name registry was established (coordinated with the RHS), standards for plant ratings and awards were adopted, rules for flower shows were promulgated, and two plant explorers (J. F. Rock and F. Kingdon-Ward) were funded and their seed collections distributed. 

By the 20th anniversary in 1964 there were 2,500 members, and 15 more chapters had been added (including Vancouver, BC).  A salaried post of Executive Secretary and Editor was created following the unexpected death of the Editor, Rudolph Henny, in 1963.  J. Harold Clarke was appointed and the only individual to have held all three offices of President, Editor, and Executive Secretary.  The Vice-President, Edward B. Dunn, became the fourth ARS President.  He served a five-year term. 

On April 25, 1967, Robert Ticknor, Louis Grothaus, William Robinson and S. Berthelsdorf submitted new requirements for the Gold Medal and introduced the Silver Medal and Bronze Medal.  The only difference between the Gold and Silver was that the Silver Medal could be awarded to someone who was not a member of the ARS.  The new Bronze medal could only be awarded by Chapters.  These requirements were published in the January, 1968.  The Portland Chapter awarded the first Bronze Medals to Bill Robinson, Mr. & Mrs. Meldon Kraxberger, and Mr. & Mrs. Wales Wood in 1968.  The Princeton Chapter awarded a Bronze Medal to Josephine V. Heuser on May 14, 1969 and the New York Chapter awarded a Bronze Medal to Gordon E. Jones on June 1, 1969.   The first Silver Medal Award was presented to Rocco Cappelli, owner of Hillside Nursery, for his work in helping to organize Portland chapter shows and for his interest in growing rhododendrons.  [See list of Silver Medal Award recipients.]

For the first 25 years, the ARS had always been centered in the Pacific Northwest.  The four presidents were from Oregon and Washington.  Starting in 1969 the President's term of office was two years.  The board changed the bylaws to provide for two vice presidents, one from the East and one from the West.  The immediate past president was made an automatic member of the board.  The board adopted this on Sept. 14, 1969.  Besides the officers and directors of the ARS, each chapter president was also on the board.  The great expansion of chapters and membership had not been foreseen.  The Board of Directors (six officers and 12 elected Directors) was increased when the new Chapter Presidents were made Directors.  By 1974, with 38 Chapters, the board with 56 members was unwieldy.  Decisions of meetings held alternately on West and East coasts, tended to be inconsistent.  New by-laws, approved in 1981, reduced the board to 19.  Chapters were grouped together geographically and were represented by a District Director.  In 1979, the full-time position of executive secretary was created.  Esther Berry became the first executive secretary.  [See list of Executive Secretaries.]

In 1981, ARS President George Ring announced a new ARS award, the Pioneer Achievement Award.  The award was for pioneering and original achievement in the advancement of rhododendrons.  The award was made to a person in any country who made a significant contribution toward growing rhododendron in America.  Since the award could not be made more often than once in every two years, only those persons with the highest achievements were to be selected by a panel of international experts.  In 1983, the Pioneer Achievement Award was awarded to Joe Gable who had died in 1972.  The citation was very long, but mentioned Joe's dedication to the Genus Rhododendron.  [See list of Pioneer Achievement Award recipients]

In 1991, an agreement was reached with the Rhododendron Society of Canada and its three chapters: Atlantic, Niagara, and Toronto.  The RSC became a new district of the ARS, and the three RSC chapters became ARS chapters.  At the same meeting, the J. D. Hooker Chapter in Sikkim and the Tennessee Valley Chapter were welcomed.

By 1994, the 50th anniversary of the ARS, there were 72 Chapters, some of them overseas (represented by a Director at Large), and 5,600 members.  Dues were $25.  An Executive Director was responsible for the smooth running of this considerable organization.

By 2016, there were 61 Chapters and the number of members had dropped to 3,023. With growing costs and decreasing membership, the position of Executive Director was dropped and a position of Office Administrator with much less responsibility was created.  ARS officers were asked to step up and take some of the responsibilities.  [See list of all chapters, past and present.]  [See list of Executive Directors.]


The following is a list of ARS Presidents:
1944 - 1949   John Henny
1949 - 1959   Claude I. Sersanous
1959 - 1963   Dr. J. Harold Clarke
1963 - 1969   E. B. Dunn
1969 - 1971   Carl H. Phetteplace, MD
1971 - 1973   Dr. Robert L Ticknor
1973 - 1975   Alfred. S. Martin
1975 - 1977   Dr. August E. Kehr
1977 - 1979   E. Brockenbrough, MD
1979 - 1981   Fred Galle
1981 - 1983   George Ring
1983 - 1985   Mrs. Janet Binford
1985 - 1987   William Tietjen
1987 - 1989   Harold E. Greer
1989 - 1991   Austin C. Kennell
1991 - 1993   Gordon K. Wylie
1993 - 1995   A. Richard Brooks
1995 - 1997   Herbert A. Spady, MD
1997 - 1999   H. C. "Bud" Gehnrich
1999 - 2001   Lynn Watts
2001 - 2003   H. Edward Reiley
2003 - 2005   Mike Stewart
2005 - 2007   Leonard O. Miller, DDS
2007 - 2009   Fred Whitney
2009 - 2011   Ted Stecki
2011 - 2013   Don Smart
2013 - 2014   Bruce Feller
2014 - 2016   Robert MacIntyre
2016 - 2019   Ann Mangels
2019 - 2021   Ken Webb


The following is a list of Executive Secretaries:
1963 - 1966   Dr. J. Harold Clarke
1966 - 1973   Mrs. William J. Curtis
1973 - 1976   Bernice J. Lamb
1976 - 1980   Esther Berry
1980 - 1985   Fran Egan
1985 - 1989   Paula L. Cash
1989 - 1994   Barbara Hall


The following is a list of Executive Directors:
1995 - 1997       Barbara Hall
1997 - 2004       Deanna Daneri
2004 - 2016       Laura Grant


The following is a list of Office Administrators:
2016 - present       Katherine Sterner


The following list shows the order in which ARS chapters were created:
Period Order District Chapter
1945 - present   AL Non-Chapter Members
1952 - present 1 4 Eugene Chapter
1952 - present 1 9 Middle Atlantic Chapter
1952 - present 1 7 New York Chapter
1952 - present 1 2 Seattle Chapter
1952 - present 1 3 Tacoma Chapter
1955 - 2003 6 3 Grays Harbor Chapter
1955 - 1993 6 7 New Jersey Chapter
1955 - present 6 4 Portland Chapter*
1955 - present 6 1 Vancouver Chapter
1957 - present 10 10 Southeastern Chapter
1958 - 2000 11 11 Indiana/Great Rivers Chapter
1958 - present 11 8 Greater Philadelphia Chapter
1958 - present 11 3 Olympic Peninsula Chapter
1959 - present 14 5 California Chapter
1959 - present 14 11 Great Lakes Chapter
1959 -1964 14 none Mid-Jersey Chapter
1961 - present 17 3 Shelton Chapter
1962 - present 18 11 Midwest Chapter
1962 - present 18 3 Olympia Chapter
1962 - present 18 7 Princeton Chapter
1962 - 2019 18 7 Tappan Zee Chapter
Period Order District Chapter
1965 - present 22 4 Tualatin Valley Chapter
1966 - 1996 23 3 North Kitsap Chapter
1966 - present 23 6 Connecticut Chapter
1967 - 1977 25 none Mohawk Hudson Chapter
1967 - present 25 4 Southwestern Oregon Chapter
1967 - present 25 8 Valley Forge Chapter
1967 - 1977 25 none Southern Chapter
1968 - 1978 29 none Tidewater Chapter
1968 - present 29 10 Azalea Chapter
1970 - 2008 31 10 Birmingham Chapter
1970 - 1989 31 5 San Mateo Chapter
1970 - 2019 31 5 Monterey Bay Chapter
1970 - present 31 9 Potomac Valley Chapter
1970 - present 31 4 Siuslaw Chapter
1971 - 2014 36 10 Piedmont Chapter
1971 - 2015 36 3 Lewis County Chapter
1971 - present 36 6 Massachusetts Chapter
1974 - present 39 AL Danish Chapter
1975 - present 40 3 Juan De Fuca Chapter
1976 - 2018 41 10 William Bartram Chapter
1977 - present 42 5 Southern California Chapter
1978 - 2014 43 2 Komo Kulshan Chapter
1978 - present 43 5 De Anza Chapter
Period Order District Chapter
1979 - present 45 4 Willamette Chapter
1980 - 2013 46 8 Pine Barrens Chapter
1980 - 1990 47 10 Central Gulf Coast Chapter
1980 - present 47 1 Victoria Chapter
1981 - 2000 49 4 Corvallis Chapter
1981 - present 49 8 Susquehanna Valley Chapter
1982 - 1987 51 10 Coosa Chapter
1982 - present 51 5 Noyo Chapter
1984 - 1998 53 5 Redwood Empire Chapter
1984 - present 53 9 Mason Dixon Chapter
1984 - present 53 1 North Island Chapter
1984 - present 53 AL Scottish Chapter
1984 - present 53 5 Eureka Chapter
1986 - 2010 58 10 Chattahoochee Chapter
1986 - present 58 2 Whidbey Island Chapter
1987 - 2015 60 6 Cape Cod & Islands Chapter
1988 - 2011 61 1 Fraser Valley Chapter
1988 - 2014 61 6 Maine Chapter
1988 - 1996 61 4 Yamhill County Chapter
1988 - present 64 8 Lehigh Valley Chapter
1989 - present 65 1 Cowichan Valley Chapter
1989 - present 65 1 Fraser South Chapter
1990 - present 67 1 Mt. Arrowsmith Chapter
1990 - present 67 11 Ozark Chapter
Period Order District Chapter
1992 - 2018 69 2 Cascade Chapter
1992 - present 69 AL Dutch Chapter
1992 - present 69 AL J. D. Hooker Chapter
1992 - present 69 2 Pilchuck Chapter
1992 - present 69 12 RSC Atlantic Region Chapter
1992 - present 69 12 RSC Niagara Region Chapter
1992 - present 69 12 RSC Toronto Region Chapter
1992 - present 69 10 Tennessee Valley Chapter
1993 - 2011 77 1 Peace Arch Chapter
1993 - present 77 11 Ann Arbor Chapter (inactive)
1993 - present 77 1 Nanaimo Chapter
1994 - 1998 80 11 Bluegrass Chapter
1997 - 2001 81 7 Southern Connecticut Chapter
1997 - present 81 3 Peninsula Chapter
1997 - present 81 3 Kitsap Chapter
1998 - present 84 5 Hawaii Chapter
2000 - present 85 AL Swedish Chapter
2013 - present 86 AL Finnish Chapter
* Portland members remained non-chapter members until 1955



  1. "Minutes of the Organization Meeting of the Eastern Division ARS"; by Donald Hardgrove; QBARS V4, N1; January 1950.
  2. "The American Rhododendron Society"; by Ruth M. Hansen; QBARS V4, N2; April 1950.
  3. "Minutes of Meeting of ARS, Portland, Oregon, February 21, 1952"; by Mrs. Ruth M. Hansen; QBARS V6, N2; April 1952.
  4. "Minutes of Meeting of the ARS"; by Mrs. Ruth Hansen; QBARS V7, N1; January 1953.
  5. "President’s Report"; by C. I. Sersanous; QBARS V9, N1; January 1955.
  6. "The Beginning Year of the ARS"; by Rudolph Henny; QBARS V9, N3; July 1955.
  7. "The American Rhododendron Society Fifteenth Annual Meeting, May 9, 1959"; by Ruth M. Hansen; QBARS V13, N3; July 1959.
  8. "International Rhododendron Conference Caps ARS Activities"; by Molly Grothaus; QBARS V15 N2; April 1961.
  9. "Some Reminiscences Of The First Secretary Of The American Rhododendron Society, Part 1"; by George D. Grace; QBARS V15, N2; April 1961.
  10. "Some Reminiscences Of The First Secretary Of The American Rhododendron Society, Part 2"; by George D. Grace; QBARS V15, N3; July 1961.
  11. "The ARS Welcomes Two New Chapters"; (no author); QBARS V16, N2; April 1962.
  12. "Two New Chapters Accepted by the ARS"; (no author); QBARS V16, N4; October 1962.
  13. "ARS President’s Report"; by J. Harold Clarke; QBARS V17, N1; January 1963.
  14. "ARS Medals"; (no author); QBARS V22, N1; January 1968.
  15. "Portland Chapter Awards Medals"; (no author); QBARS V22, N4; October 1968.
  16. "Josephine V. Heuser Receives A.R.S. Bronze Medal"; by C. C. Bahrenburg; QBARS V23, N4; October 1969.
  17. "ARS Testimonial to Gordon E. Jones"; (no author); QBARS V23, N4; October 1969.
  18. "Presidents Report"; by Carl H. Phetteplace; QBARS V24, N4; July 1970.
  19. Hybrids and Hybridizers; by Franklin H. West and Philip A. Livingston; Harrowood Books,; 1978.
  20. "New Society Award"; by George W. Ring; JARS V35, N3; Summer 1981
  21. "Joseph B. Gable Selected as the First Recipient of the Pioneer Achievement Award"; (no author); JARS V36, N3; Summer 1982.
  22. "From the President"; by Gordon Wylie; JARS V46, N1; Winter 1992.
  23. "An ARS Retrospective: Our First Decade, 1944 - 1954, Part I"; by Franklin H. West; JARS V48, N2; Spring 1994.
  24. "An ARS Retrospective: Our First Decade, 1944 - 1954, Part II"; by Franklin H. West; JARS V48, N3; Summer 1994.
  25. "An ARS Retrospective: Our Second Decade, 1954 - 1964, Part III"; by Franklin H. West; JARS V48, N4; Fall 1994.
  26. "Footnotes to the ARS History, 1944-1995"; by John Henny, Howard Slonecker, Alfred S. Martin; JARS V49, N1; Winter 1995.
  27. "An ARS Retrospective: Our Third Decade, 1964 - 1974, Part IV"; by Franklin H. West; JARS V49, N1; Winter 1995.
  28. "An ARS Retrospective: Our Fourth Decade, 1974 - 1984, Part V"; by Franklin H. West; JARS V49, N2; Spring 1995.
  29. The Rhododendron Story; by Cynthia Postan; The Royal Horticultural Society; 1996.
  30. The Pacific Coast Rhododendron Story; by Sonja Nelson; Binford & Mort Publishing; 2001.
  31. The chapter list was gleaned from back copies of the QBARS and JARS.
  32. ARS Gold Medal, Silver Medal and Pioneer Achievement Award citations.
  33. Private Communication from Kathy Van Veen, April 7, 2015.

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