Winnetka Garden Club: 100 Years of Community Engagement

The 1962 grand opening and dedication of Moffat Mall, named for Mrs. Alice Moffat (center), a longtime, active member of the Winnetka Garden Club. (Winnetka Talk)

Originally appeared in the Fall/Winter 2021 Gazette
by Barbara Ferry

In 1921, local women with a love for flowers, plants and an eye towards conservation, first organized a group that blossomed into the Winnetka Garden Club (WGC). Meetings were held in a member’s home, either preceded by lunch or followed by tea served from a lovely silver tea service with perfectly pressed cloth napkins. Over the century, the dress code has evolved from dresses, hats, and gloves to the more relaxed style of today, but the commitment and dedication of the Club to develop a knowledge and appreciation of gardening, horticulture, floral design, and conservation has remained the same.

One of the hallmarks of the WGC has always been its engagement with the community. The Club initiated the planting of elm trees on Elm Street, secured oak trees at the south end of Centennial Park, helped document notable trees in Winnetka, provided plant and floral arrangements for hospitalized patients at Great Lakes Naval Base and Fort Sheridan, created a native garden at the Elm Street train station, handed out conservation pamphlets to the schools, and for decades provided weekly flower arrangements for the front desk at the Winnetka Public Library. This is a mere sampling of WGC’s community activities.

The most visible achievement is Moffat Mall, which, until 1979, was an empty area of turf between Winnetka’s Village Hall and the Post Office. Using a landscape designer’s plan, WGC built a green oasis with benches and a fountain. Club members have for decades maintained the garden on a weekly basis by weeding, pruning, and eliminating garbage. Moffat Mall has been renovated twice and will undergo another facelift in 2022 as part of the Club’s centennial project.

Winnetka Garden Club members Weezie Monroe, Nancy Side, Linda Walsh, Gwen McConnaughy planting bulbs at Moffat Mall in 2000. (Photo courtesy of WGC)

There have also been projects further afield, including the restoration and maintenance of the garden at Abraham Lincoln’s home in Springfield from 1957-1977.

At a time when conservation issues are headline news, WGC can proudly claim it has supported such issues almost from its inception. The Club joined the Save the Redwoods League and in 1969, purchased and saved a five-acre grove of redwood trees in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park in Humboldt County, California. Members also vigorously supported Winnetka’s earliest recycling efforts in the 1960s and 1970s by filling their car trunks with newspaper and glass, and driving to a recycling station located near the old village dump on Willow Road.

In addition to making hundreds of monetary grants toward conservation, the Club has written letters and emails to senators and representatives, including objections to the damming of Dinosaur National Monument in Jensen, Utah, petitions against oil pipeline development, and support for clean water initiatives and efforts to prevent coastal erosion. Years ago, recognizing the success of these conservation letter-writing efforts, the Christian Science Monitor put a box on its front page highlighting the impact of “those little ladies in tennis shoes.”

The Winnetka Garden Club has always been a creative group. Generations of talented floral designers and horticulture
experts have won awards locally and nationally. The Club and its members have had a distinguished history at the “Chicago World Flower and Garden Show,” held in the 1960s and 1970s at both McCormick Place and the International Amphitheater in Chicago, and at the “Show of Summer” held at the Chicago Botanic Garden from 1980-2017. One of many notable awards received was the Mayor’s Award given in 1974 for a garden “providing the most useful gardening information to Chicagoland homeowners.”

In 100 years, styles have changed, and the causes championed have evolved, but as Joan Gately, a member for 55 years, stated, “the strength of the WGC has always been its ability to adapt.”

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