ARS History

History of the Rhododendron Research Foundation

In 1970, the ARS Research Committee was established but had no funding and basically reported on research performed by others.  About the only function the committee had was to report on research done by governments, colleges, and universities throughout the world.  Dr. J. Harold Clarke was the first chairman.  Early on Dr. August Kehr became second chairman and remained chairman until 1986.

Prior to 1975, Seed Exchange revenues supported some research, but without a formal funding mechanism, the Research Committee's efforts to sponsor research were limited.  The Research Foundation of the American Rhododendron Society was sanctioned in 1975 at the annual ARS meeting in Seattle, thus formalizing support by the ARS for research on rhododendron and azalea problems and issues.

Judson Brooks, Alfred Martin, Franklin West, Dr. Kehr and others were driving forces behind the establishment of a non-profit Research Foundation of the American Rhododendron Society.  At the 1975 Seattle meeting a total of $8,800 was raised in cash and pledges and the Research Foundation was on its way.

In 1976 the Research Foundation was established with the signing of a Trust Agreement between the American Rhododendron Society and the Foundation's original trustees: by J. Judson Brooks, Edward Dunn, John P. Evans, Alfred S. Martin, Theodore H. Van Veen and Franklin H. West as directors and August E. Kehr as president.  The date of the signing was March 13, 1976.  The purposes of the Foundation were to devote and apply the property of the trust for promoting and financing research projects relating to the introduction, production, cultivation, maintenance, improvement, propagation, and dissemination of azaleas and rhododendrons.  Funding of the Trust was initiated the same year at the Annual Meeting of the Society in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania.

Incorporation as a not-for-profit foundation meant that donations were potentially tax exempt and the Research Foundation Endowment Fund would serve as a way to fund ARS research activities.  All donations are placed in the endowment trust and the proceeds are kept at a level to conserve and perhaps grow the principal.

Most government, university and corporate funding for plant research concentrates on food crops, and relatively little is allocated to ornamentals such as rhododendrons and azaleas.  The intent of the Research Foundation has been not to fund complete solutions to problems, since it will never have the funding to do that, but to point the way with seed money and demonstrate an interest by the ARS.  This can attract additional funding from other sources, and provide investigations with direction to areas which are of unique interest to the "rhodophile."

In March 1976, the framework for the Research Foundation was put into place and the Foundation was ready to invest funds in a trust, from which a prudent amount would be used to accomplish the objectives.  Thus at the time of the annual meeting of the ARS at Valley Forge in 1976, everything was in place to start solicitation of capital funds.  At the annual banquet of the Society, Judson Brooks made a strong appeal for the first contributions.  Pledge cards were placed at each table, and as a result the Foundation received nearly $9,549 from its initial drive.

The Research Committee was given responsibility to approve grants for research that conformed with the goals of the Trust Agreement.  The committee accepted proposals throughout the year and met to select those for funding generally at the time of the Annual Meeting of the ARS.  Harold Sweetman became chair in 2001 and is supported by nine ARS members.  The members have scientific backgrounds and experience in scientific research.  The Committee reports to the Board of Directors of the ARS its research funding activities.

The definition of research under the auspices of the Research Foundation is purposely very broad and many subjects are highlighted on the ARS website www.rhododendron.org/researchgrants.htm.  Proposals are evaluated with two criteria: success and value.  Committee members individually review each research proposal on its probability of success and on its probable value to ARS members.  The evaluator then ranks the proposals and the results are compiled for the meeting of the Research Committee.  At that time the merits of the proposals are discussed along with the criteria above.  The committee makes a final determination with recommendations for funding to the Foundation Trustees and informs the successful submitters through the treasurer of the Research Foundation.  Funding occurs upon acceptance of an executed Memorandum of Agreement between the researcher and the Research Foundation of the ARS.  Projects accepted are published in the Journal of the American Rhododendron Society and at the Society's website at www.rhododendron.org/granthistory.htm

The first concrete activity was to co-sponsor the International Nomenclature Conference in New York City, May 15-17, 1978, in cooperation with the New York Botanic Garden.  From this activity the international group agreed on a single system of nomenclature based upon the Sleumer system.  This was an advance because several different systems were being prepared at the time to replace the Balfour system which is not based upon a truly botanical basis.  From this conference came the book, "Contributions Toward a Classification of Rhododendron."

Despite having limited funds, the Research Committee and the Board of Directors took an optimistic course.  They approved $1,300 for a project of translating a Chinese taxonomic text into English.  That text described 285 species of Chinese rhododendrons.  That effort resulted in the book Rhododendrons of China. The book described many species of rhododendrons that were entirely new to western literature at that time.

By 1982, two developments apparently turned the tide and were vital in attaining the goal of increasing financial support by the membership, though that turnabout was not clear at the time.  The first of these came about when the Budget Committee made the recommendation that the profits of the Seed Exchange, which had accumulated for many years in the ARS treasury, be transferred to the coffers of the Research Foundation.  This one action, when approved by the Society, swelled the capital funds in the Foundation by over $40,000, thereby doubling the amount already in the account.  It was as though that recommendation of the Budget Committee provided the magic bullet that was urgently needed to energize membership participation and interest.

A second event was far less dramatic but in retrospect had far reaching results.  It was the development and use of a logo, shown below, to set off all publications of the Foundation.  The logo was developed and drawn by Mrs. Terry Scheuchenko at no cost to the Society or Foundation.  Her only recognition was to have an evergreen azalea, 'Terry', named in her honor.  However, her logo, appearing in nearly every issue of the Journal, was a powerful reminder to the membership of the research emanating from the Research Foundation.  In brief, that logo spotlighted all the results of research of the Foundation and repeatedly called it to the attention of the readers.

ARS Research Foundation logo

Since then, the combined efforts of the Research Committee and Research Foundation have helped produce publications, international scientific rhododendron symposiums, seed collections, identification of diseases and work on tissue culture techniques as it relates to rhododendrons.  The results of funded projects are subsequently published in the ARS Journal.  The Research Foundation continues to provide extraordinary benefits to the ARS at bargain rates and has propelled the ARS into the role of a significant contributor to rhododendron knowledge beyond just the casual observational lore that we all possess about our favorite genus.

In an article written about the rhododendron Research Foundation in 1985, Dr. Kehr defined rhododendron research as "problem solving." [2]  If we accept that definition, then there will be a never-ending need for the Research Foundation.  Because of our interest in the genus we are often on the cutting edge of problem identification.  Exact identification of pathogens is necessary for control.  There are numerous needs for research studies on pests, diseases and cultural practices.  Without the integrated support of the ARS membership, the Research Committee and the Research Foundation, work on many issues would be ignored or delayed.


  1. "Rhododendron Research Foundation Organized"; (no author); QBARS V29, N4; October 1975.
  2. "Putting Research to Work for You"; by August E. Kehr, Ph.D.; JARS V39, N1; Winter 1985.
  3. "Rhododendron Research and the Role of the ARS:"; by Hank Schannen; JARS V48, N3; Summer 1994.
  4. "A History of the ARS Research Foundation"; by August E. Kehr and Alfred S. Martin; JARS V55, N2; Spring 2001.
  5. "Rhododendron Research Foundation - Three Decades and the Whole Nine Yards"; by Karel Bernady and Harold Sweetman; JARS V62, N1; Winter 2008.

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