Monticello church celebrates 70 years of spring plant sales

Monticello Community United Methodist Church (CUMC) congregation members have cultivated something that’s become downright unique in the annals of community events.

A dedicated group of diggers, plant splitters, baggers, price labelers, cashiers, bake sale and caramel roll ladies, table decorators, Boy Scouts, youth, and a clean-up crew recently wrapped up the church’s 70th annual spring plant sale.

Not counting the people who bake for the bake sale and a group of Boy Scouts who help set up tables,there are about 75 people from the congregation who volunteer for the event, said Patsy Anundsen, plant sale committee co-chair.

“I’m a short-timer at seven years,” Anundsen said. “Judy Hanson and Rae Shrupp are our long-timers at 25 years and 27 years, respectively.” Many volunteers work two, three or event four days a week getting ready for the sale, sometimes tallying six or more hours a day. “Many of them are octogenarians,” Anunsen added.

CUMC plant sale committee co-chairs meet twice yearly to start planning for the event – in late February and April – to ensure everyone is on track with their assignments. Typical pre-event duties include promotion and advertising, both in-house and external, gathering packing supplies such as labels, boxes, and markers, determining the line-up of volunteers, and planning sanctuary talks.

Those talks promoting the plant sale are critical, Anundsen explained.
“Each year, I get up and very seriously make our needs known for the plant sale. Judy Adamson, chair of the bake sale and a dear friend of mine, calls me out for not mentioning the bake sale and reminds people that there really is a bake sale. The congregation hardly hears a word I say; they all wait for Judy to stand up and give them something to laugh about, namely, telling them to clean the cobwebs out of their ovens.”

Diggers are scheduled for Wednesdays and Thursdays, Anundsen said.

“They start at 9 a.m., take a lunch break on the first run back, and dig until about 2 p.m. until they are done. Each year, we have people, many who aren’t even members of our congregation, allowing us to dig in their gardens. John Ellison has said his garden soil ended up being 6 inches lower than the rest of the yard after donating for 70 years.”

Anundsen’s history of the Community United Methodist Church plant sale explains the role the historic Ellison family has played over the years regarding the event.

That history includes memories from Audrey Ellison, who stepped back in time in recalling the plant sale’s genesis.

In 1947, Caroline Ellison was working in her garden behind the Ellison family home on West Broadway, tossing out volunteer perennials.

A good friend and fellow gardener was driving by and stopped to talk. On seeing what Caroline was doing, the friend suggested that Caroline put extra plants in pots (there were no plastic baggies back then) and sell them at the church as a fundraiser. Caroline did as suggested and got others to volunteer their plants.

Joyce Westveer created a poster announcing the event, and the plant sale was born.

A bake sale and lunch were included, and it is Audrey Ellison’s recollection the church made $75 that first year, nearly $800 in today’s dollars.

According to Anundsen, over the years, there have been various plant sale leaders, and the food offered has evolved from a lunch or pies to the caramel roll sale of today.

Annuals, vegetable plants, and hanging planters have been offered from time to time in addition to the perennials.

Advertising still includes posters and newspaper notices, but electronic kiosks and on-line notices are also being used to get the word out.

Years later, Caroline was heard to comment that she could see plants growing all over Monticello that came from CUMC’s plant sale, Anundsen said.

This year, Anundsen said the Ellison family again offered an opportunity to dig perennials this spring for the last time at the Ellison family home.

“For 70 years, perennials from the gardens started by Caroline Ellison have been a welcome addition to our plant sale, and this year we had a table of plants from the Ellison garden,” Anundsen said.

Vera Hanson remembers digging perennials at the home of Ruby Benson on River Street, Anundsen said.

“Ruby was a member of Trinity, but welcomed CUMC diggers. Vera also remembers digging hostas at Cordelia [Doc Ellison’s sister] Ellison’s garden near the Catholic church.” When Hanson retired, she got more involved with the plant, bake, and roll sale. “At that time, pies were being served, Anundsen said. “Vera suggested caramel rolls, and with a recipe from Rae Schrupp, and the smell of caramel rolls were soon filling the church, encouraging people to stay for a tasty treat.”

Hanson would get in at 7 a.m. to begin baking rolls in the old church basement,” Anundsen said. “Customers were already in the parking lot. When they saw Vera come in they quickly started lining up.”
Others involved in various parts of the event included Mary Mahoney, Gladys Nelson, and Clara Anderson.

“In the old church, the bake sale was upstairs – and for many years was headed by Goldie Thompson (Vera’s mom), and others including Mary, Jean, Ben, and Adele Bohanon,” Anundsen said. “Plants filled the basement. The pie shop was in the Pumpkin Patch room, and set-up had to wait for children to leave at noon on Friday.”

So many plants were donated that there was literally no room left in the basement for plants, Anundsen said.

“The new church on the hill offered more room and lots of light, but it took time for those involved to work out the layout we follow today. For years the sale ran from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. But, because people were always standing in line early to get in, the start time was moved up to 8 a.m. and we still have an early line up.”

Anundsen said working the plant sale each year brings plenty of enjoyment, as well as memories.

“It’s fun to see all the people pulling together, to see people from the community who are not part of our church donate plants, to see a line-up of anxious customers the morning of the sale from our community and beyond,” she said. “I feel blessed to be a part of this tradition. I never met Caroline Ellison, but I think we would have been great friends. This year we were not only celebrating 70 years of the plant sale, but 70 years of the Ellison Family and their connection to our church,” she added.

One year while digging at Jo Caldwell’s, it started to rain, Anundsen recalled. Instead of using the grocery bags for the plants, the diggers who were working decided they could use the bags to cover their heads and continue digging. “Too bad our diggers don’t carry cameras,” she said.

This year, event organizers had the added wrinkle of needing to clean out after the plant sale in order to have the church ready for a 2 p.m. funeral and the kitchen ready for the funeral luncheon,” Anundsen said.

“One person stated that no sooner were the tarps off the tables, than tablecloths flew over them, and the transformation from plant sale had been completed in record time. How awesome is that?”

Anundsen credited many groups at the church for accomplishing various tasks. “We somehow manage to do it with good humor while recognizing how tired we all are by Friday evening,” she said. “Church secretary Marilyn Thompson has been with us 20 years, and she’s very accommodating to all our needs, whether it is a newsletter or bulletin article. We also have a Girl Scout group which maintains the garden on the west end of Ellison Park. They took a peony from the Ellison home for the garden at Ellison Park.”

Contact Tim Hennagir at [email protected]