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Black & White image of the Fountain

History of NIGC

Naples Island Garden Club
How We Got Started

40th Ruby Anniversary History of NIGC

June 12, 2013 – Old Ranch Country Club


A. Garden Clubs in America :

The fertile soil and gentle climate of the South were perhaps the reason the first garden club in America was founded there. The Ladies Garden Club of America was formed in 1891 in Athens, GA. Garden clubs quickly expanded throughout the South and then across our nation. The National Garden Club, of which we are members, was established in 1929. These clubs were not just concerned with teas and genteel Flower Shows or improvement of members’ private gardens. Many clubs were the earliest advocates of civic beautification, planting of street trees, maintenance of parks, and campaigns against blight especially billboards. Restoration and maintenance of nearby historic gardens was also a priority of many clubs. 


B. Cassie Mae Curtis

Cassie Mae Curtis, our founder, was born in the Blue Ridge mountains of Virginia to the Stone family in 1919. They moved to Bluefield, West
Virginia which straddles the Virginia-West Virginian line. Cassie said she was raised Southern style with “lots of kissin’ cousins”. After college, she worked as a Home Economist for Hotpoint and met handsome Mel Curtis. Her family thought he was “the nicest Yankee” they had ever met. They married and moved to Hollywood where Mel worked in the film industry. The family enjoyed vacations on Naples Island in summer rentals and loved it so much they bought a home in 1969 and settled into 149 Rivo Alto Canal. Cassie was active immediately in PTA and other groups but found gardening at the beach “quite different”. One day she leaned over neighbor Arv Luce’s fence and said, “I think we should start a garden club”. Those were fateful words.

C. Founding and First Year

11 women met at Cassie’s home on the second Monday of October, and we continue to meet on second Mondays forty years later. On October 15, 1973 the ladies enjoyed cake and champagne and voila: Naples Islands Garden Club was launched. 9 members were soon added for a total of 20, they met in homes with formal programs about flower arranging, plant solutions and garden tools. They enjoyed hot dog and hamburger lunches, and paid 25 cents each meeting for dues. They decided to cap the club at 40 members and one had to live on the island to belong. In just 6 months, they moved their meetings to Gloria Dei Church because 26 women were now members.

D. Second Year

Lou Phelps was our second president, a newsletter was launched and dues went to $5 per year. We joined California Garden Club in 1974 but found the trip to Palos Verdes difficult and dropped membership two years later. The delicious recipes the Club enjoyed ware quickly turned into the first cookbook of several cookbooks. 

E. Up to 15 th Anniversary in 1988

What did the Club look in these early years? There was an emphasis on beautification. Members formed groups to “pull weeds in Naples and in the cracks of bridges”. Trash clean-ups were held along Second St. They struggled to maintain plantings at the fountain which died time and again due to the spray of chlorinated water. The battle was finally conceded when they asked the city to cover the planters with tile. The first roster was produced and bylaws and standing rules were written and approved. An active excursion and travel calendar emerged; up to 5 trips a year were not uncommon. Members traveled all over Southern California including a day at Santa Anita Racetrack for many years; north to orchid growers in Santa Barbara, to Carmel and San Francisco. Members cruised French rivers on barges, attended the Indian Market in Santa Fe, and joined a trip to Africa. This excursion and travel tradition continues today in our club, a group has just returned from a cruise north to Vancouver. Milber Segerblom gave a shot in the arm to club membership in the late 70’s when she began Bridge.
Ladies quickly joined the garden club to enjoy the Bridge Group. The decision was made to cap regular membership at 80, the Fire Department limit for the community room at Gloria Dei Church. The number was later expanded to 85 where it remains today. In 1983 applicants had to sign a statement “I agree to serve on committees and support club activities”. The Associate member category was added in 1983 and Sustaining members in 1988.

F. Flower Show

Our most anticipated annual event is the Flower Show, it was instituted in the second year of the Club, 1974. Held first at the church, it moved to Adra Kober’s large home on The Colonnade in 1988 and 1989. In 1990, the size of the show, which now included Arts and Craft, and space for a large luncheon necessitated a move to Long Beach Yacht Club where it remains today. Spring 2014 will mark our 40 th Flower Show .

G. Christmas Luncheon

Many forms of December celebration existed in the early days at general meetings: a plant exchange and carol sing; a class on designs using fresh greens,; holiday music and several visits by the Wilson High School Choir. The meeting was dropped in 1990 in favor of visiting musicians and finally in 1994, the formal luncheon arrived, moving around different venues in the city. It has been held at Virginia Country Club since 2006. The selected philanthropy were donations to Lutheran Social Services and gift exchanges were staged. 2008 saw a slight change to the event, the gift exchange were dropped and the Spark of Love Toy Drive was added as a second holiday philanthropy. “City fireman show up at our luncheon to accept gifts for the children of Long Beach.

H. Beautification Awards

The appearance of Naples Island has always been a top priority of the Club. Certificates for attractive and tidy landscaping were given in our earliest days. In 1987 Arv Luce designed a landscaping award with a beautiful pansy on it. Homeowners were dismayed they did not get to keep the award and Chris Gilisssen began to create his handmade, hand painted wooded tulip that remained with each winner. The award program continues today ;it was given to the first commercial recipient in 2013.

I. Arbor Day

Arbor Day is our traditional event where trees, shrubs, and flowers are planted in memory of members who passed away during the year. Close family members are also included in the memorial ceremony. Arbor Day began in 1985 and moved to Naples School in 1998. We have enjoyed the sweetness the elementary students bring to our program when the student council participates in the program yearly. Our landscape improvements at the school are needed and appreciated.

J. Fundraising

Twenty years ago our dues were $18 a year and were the cornerstone of the budget. Club coffers have been buoyed consistently from early days by……the Bridge Tournament . In 1995 the club began to participate in the NIA Flea Market with a plant sale as a fundraiser; a Flea Market chair was added in 2001. Bunco became an immediate hit in 2001 for fun and income; several club Book Clubs provide support. A few years ago, a holiday event at Standing Ovations Flower Shop was added to expand the Beautification budget.

K. May Day

A stay in Annapolis, Maryland convinced Adra Kober that the Garden Club of Olde Annapolis May Day contest was perfect for Naples Island. She proposed and the board approved the event in 2000; Adra and members worked to publicize May Day; a committee now keeps the sweet May 1 tradition of flowers and ribbons on doors and porches thriving on our island.

L. Philanthropy and Scholarship

In the early years of the Club, philanthropy became a priority. The Club produced a short list Long Beach groups for members to support, including Rancho Los Alamitos . In the mid 80’s, the tradition of lighted Trees in the Bay for the month of December was threatened because of its cost to the city. NIGC immediately joined other area groups in raising funds to continue this well-loved institution. Not only were existing trees maintained with widespread support, the number of Bay trees increased and trees in Colorado Lagoon were installed. 1994 was an important year in our history, NIGC initiated a scholarship program for horticultural majors at Long Beach City College. This is a proud pillar of our Club, supporting the formal study of plant cultivation and we were fortunate to receive funds from “Helping Us Help Ourselves” , a foundation administered by Joe Scanlin . This is a proud pillar of our Club! This year we also contributed to the Girl Scout troop and Cub Scout den of our local Naples Elementary School. Additionally, the number of donations by individuals to NIGC has increased in the last several years.

M. Beautification

As the Club matured, civic beautification became a priority. A committee studied the medians on Naples Plaza in 2001, the result was a Mediterranean design of olive trees and white Iceberg roses. A formal groundbreaking was held in 2002, our first beautification project. The committee continues to tweak hardscape and landscape design while monthly membership maintenance of the median continues. In 2006, the condition of La Bella Fontana Park became a concern. The slow work of restoring the historic Italian landscape and hardscape began with the city as a partner. The park is a large area to maintain because of the steady stream of city and regional residents. A group of members assist with special projects at the fountain. The condition of the park at the end of Appian Way receives steady attention from the Club. Club funds were used to upgrade the expanse of the Appian Way on-ramp. The Club designed the long medians of busy Second Street in 2010; the city installed the drought resistant plan which has pleased business and property owners. Terra cotta pots with succulents were positioned in the business district in a partnership with the Naples Improvement Assoc. and Naples Business Association. Tree wells of the business district were planted in 2011 and both projects receive member maintenance. 


N. Incorporation as a Non-Profit Mutual Benefit Organization.

We incorporated as a non-profit organization in 2007 and joined California Garden Clubs in Spring, 2008. The difficult drive through the Harbor and over busy bridges motivated us to ask to join the Orange County District which we did in 2012. We have been a Blue Ribbon member since our first year 2009. We became interested in the CGCI Award Program, the requirements spurred some to focus and refine projects. Our club has received 18 gold “medals” at the state level and 1 Regional award (9 state Pacific Region of the National Garden Club.

O. Summary

At the end of the day, our Club has grown just like the flora and fauna of Naples. Our roots are now 40 years deep, our branches continue to grow, and our heartwood, the essential support of any tree, is our members, past and present, their love of our island, and their dedication to its continued improvement.

S. H. Davidson, written in 2013, with Trish Schooley

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