Here is a group of adult horticulture winners from a past flower show. (Courtesy photo)

Flower Department marks 70th anniversary

GREENVILLE—The Flower Department in the basement of the Coliseum will be celebrating its 70th anniversary at the 166th annual Great Darke County Fair, slated for Friday, Aug. 19 to Saturday, Aug. 27.

The department hosts two shows during the fair…on the first Saturday and on Wednesday.

When once there were quite a few clubs involved, there are now two adult clubs, (the Ladybugs and Wildflowers) as well as the Junior Butterflies, according to Charlene Thornhill, president of the Darke County Association of Garden Clubs (DCAGC).

Kim Cromwell, Charlene’s oldest daughter, is flower show chairperson this year and is in charge of classification and judges. Other DCAGC officers are Charlene, president and in charge of the junior division; Cathy Detrick, vice president/secretary; Brenda Grant, treasurer and in charge of clerks; Butterflies Jr. Garden Club, hospitality; Irma Heiser, artistic; Chris Lemon and Barb Rhoades, horticulture; Chris Detrick, staging and dismantling with Kim Cromwell; and registration; Mary Lee Moore.

Each year, the shows have a particular theme. This year it’s “Let’s Go Places” and in certain areas of the basement of the Coliseum in the Flower Department, designs and horticulture of years past will be exhibited reflecting on the special anniversary.

Even though her family has participated a lot of years in the Flower Department she said it takes all of these clubs to make it successful.

Over the years, Green Thumb, Redbud, Petal Pusher, Sunny Hours, Wayne Trail, Cardinal Chatter, Arcanum and Versailles garden clubs, Treaty Towne African Violet Ladybug, Wildflower, Sun and Fun, Woodland Trails, Wood Sprites, Sunburst, Toadstools, Drew Drops Garden Club, Nightingales, Garden Girls Garden Club and the Butterflies Junior Garden Club (since 1985) have been involved. However, since 2013, just the three clubs have been hosting the shows. The Ladybugs have 22 members; the Wildflowers, seven members; and Butterflies Juniors, 16 members.

“We’ve had a lot of great sponsors,” Charlene said. “Our fair was popular with the Ohio Association of Gardens Clubs. A lot of them talk about the Darke County Fair and we always get compliments on the juniors. We started in 1952 and received the Best Ohio County Fair Flower Show Class B Award by the Ohio Association in 1954., It was called the Myers V. Cooper trophy, and clubs were Redbud, Ansonia, Arcanum, Chatter Club from Rossburg, Wayne Trail in Greenville, Green Thumb in Greenville and Treaty Town African Violet Society.”

In 1956, the Cardinal Garden Club of Gettysburg and Sunny Hours of Greenville joined, while, in 1960, the Snappy Petal Pushers Garden Club, Arcanum, joined in, followed by the Pitsburg Petal Pushers and Versailles Garden Club members who became active 1962.
It was in 1966 that the Cardinal Garden Club dropped out; followed by Woodland Trails of New Madison, who joined in 1977 and dropped out in 1981; and the Dew Drops joined in 1979 and dropped the following year.

The last year for Treat Town African Violet Society was in 1989, with the Wayne Trail dropping out in 1997.

However, in 1998, the Nightingales Garden Club joined as did the Garden Girls Garden Club in 2006.

Then seven years later, the DCGAGC was down to the three current clubs to provide the flower show.

In her family alone, Charlene said they have 355 years of membership. Her father, Frank Sheffer, served as superintendent of the department and entered shows for 25 years; her mother, Louise, served 55 years; Charlene, 59; husband Donn, 42; daughter Kim and family for a total of 89 years and daughter Jody and family recorded 86 years for a total of 355 years as of this date with more to add on in the future.

The Flower Department has seen nine fair board superintendents in 69 years….Harold Snider, Gilbert Lease, Ed Buchy, Doyle Greenhoff, Darryl Mehaffie, Bll Rhoades, Dave Niley, Ed Erisman and Larry Baker. Niley is this year’s superintendent.

History has it that the first garden club involvement in a fair flower shows occurred in the year 1952 as indicated before.

In 1958, it became two flower shows held on the first Saturday of fair and the following Wednesday.

Having outgrown the Fine Arts Building, the Flower Department was moved to the northeast section of the basement of the Coliseum in the middle 1950s, and educational programs were started in 1957. After the southeast area of the Coliseum basement became available, the Flower Department expanded to represent the east half of the basement.

Exhibitors have been open to Darke County residents or members of the Darke County Association of Garden Clubs.

Over the years, numerous varieties of flowers and other plants — including everlastings and succulents — were judged at the shows.

“We used to plant flowers in front of the Grandstand around the race track and now the Ladybugs are planting the garden in front of the gazebo,” she said. “We’ve added certain things over the years and have been on the front of the fairbook several times.”

Charlene, who reported there are six judges at each show, learned the fair flower shows started in 1923 and have continued except for the year 2020 when the Corona Virus hit with COVID-19 in 2020.

“Some exhibitors didn’t return in 2021,” she said.

Thornhill came across a lot of information while going through her father’s premium and fair books.

It was noted that the flower shows began in the current Fine Arts building with one show being held on Tuesday.

“When the clubs became involved, the Redbud Garden Club of Ansonia was among them,” she said. “My mother, Louise Sheffer, and Ruby Bostleman became involved in the show. In 1954, clubs in Ansonia, Arcanum, Rossburg, Greenville and later Gettysburg started helping out, and that was the first year I participated in the flower show. Along the way, it has taken all clubs to put on a show.”

Her research began with the 1924 fair book.

“Earlier shows were open to all counties that are open to Darke County and were known as Darke County Federation of Garden Clubs,” Charlene said. “And, when Green Thumb left, it became the DCAGC, which had a small area at Lura Rhynard’s home to purchase arranging supplies.”

With the passing of matriarch in 2005, that was the start of the annual Louise Sheffer award presented to a deserving exhibitor.

The flower bed in front of the Coliseum was highlighted on the front cover of the 2006 fair book having won the 2004 Ohio Nature and Beautification Award from OAGC. That same year, the Darke County Fair celebrated 50 years of greatness with the sesquicentennial year. In 2012, the 60th Diamond Jubilee was celebrated, Louise Sheffer, Eleanor Shepherd and Lura Rhynard were posthumously honored.

The Redbud Garden Club of Ansonia chaired with the theme “Sesqui-Centennial in 1953.”

Other features during the flower show history are that in 1957, club niches were added and defined as box-like, recessed space with a background not to be judged but to add uniqueness to the entire flower show. Also included were educational programs in front of the bleachers over a loud speaker system, and each garden club provided education in different ways.

To celebrate the 65th year in 2017, the fair book front and back cover honored the clubs to reflect the Flower Department involvement. The invitational area was staged by the Wysong family.

From 1984 to 2011 plant sales were held in the basement of the Coliseum to cover the cost of the flower shows. The year 1967 was the start of the Designers Choice Award; and fair gardens were added to the junior horticulture schedule in 2014. These two happenings are among many that have taken place in the past 70 years the DCAGC has been involved.

Charlene, who indicated the Great Darke County Fair increased to eight days in 1969 and now is up to nine days and nine nights, concluded, “The Darke County Agricultural Society and exhibitors have shown support to make the Darke County Fair Flower Shows as successful as they have been every year and plans are in place to continue the effort to be recognized as one of the top fair flower shows in the state.”

Becky Collins, on the left was one of two recipients of the Louise Sheffer Award when it started in 2005 and also received the honor last year at the Great Darke County Fair. She is shown here with Sheffer's daughter, Jeannette Davis. (Courtesy photo)
Barbara Skinner, now deceased, reportedly loved it when she received the Louise Sheffer Award in 2015.
Callee Moore received the junior award of excellence at a previous flower show at the Great Darke County Fair. (Courtesy photo)
Darke County Now Staff - Linda Moody - Staff Writer

Linda Moody / Staff Writer

I am a Darke County native living in the Ansonia area with my son. I have been in journalism 50+ years and enjoy what I do.

Contact Darke County Now Media Correspondent Linda Moody @ or 937-337-1955.

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