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History of NIGC

Naples Island Garden Club

How We Got Started

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.

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. 

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

Up to 15th 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.

​La Bella Fontana Park Restoration Project

Caring for La Bella Fontana Park in the middle of Naples has been a focus of our Garden Club for much of our history. Photos from the 70s and 80s show members working with trowels, rakes and brooms "at the fountain". A deteriorating landscape in 2006 prompted our Club to join with NIA to raise funds for landscape maintenance and replacement of dead sections of the boxwood hedge. 


We began advocating for our iconic park with the City of Long Beach’s Parks, Recreation and Marine Department (PRM) and with then Councilman Gary DeLong. They responded with funding for two new olive trees and improved maintenance. NIGC established a budget category for the park in 2009 and it soon became an official beautification project for the Garden Club. PRM suggested we formally adopt the park, which we did, and its maintenance became a regular Club activity. Members carrying out this work became known as the “Bellas”.

In 2011 the Park’s trees showed signs of disease. At the request of PRM we hired horticulturalists to analyze bark, leaves, and soil, and we implemented their suggestions. They returned twice to examine the trees but, unfortunately, they found further deterioration.

By 2016 we knew there was no hope of a remedy and we formed a committee to study replacement of the trees. The committee determined that the replacement of eight trees would cost $45,000. In 2018 PRM partially funded these costs; Councilwoman Suzie Price was instrumental in getting City Council to approve
some further funding; NIGC added a bequest from the Sheila Butterbaugh Estate and the NIA has pledged some funding.

The project highlight is eight California Pepper trees (Schinus Molle). Electrical and irrigation systems will be also be updated. Two new Windmill Palms (Trachycarpus Molle) will be planted in January 2019 and new uplighting will be installed.

NIGC Funding Team:
Sandy Davidson Barbara Jordon Marianne Huntley Bill Davidson (CFO)

Arv Luce 1923-2018

In 1923, Arv Luce was born an only child in Highland Park, Los Angeles.  She had a  passion for art which continued throughout her life.  In high school she obtained a job tinting black and white photos in color with oils.  During WW11 she worked at Lockeed as a “Time Keeper”, clocking in workers as they arrived and left for the day. Arv met Bill Luce in high school when she was 15-years of age, falling madly in love with him and they were married on July 4th, 1940, in Las Vegas, Nevada.


Bill was in the Navy during the last part of the war and was stationed in Washington, DC, Miami, New Orleans and Texas, with Arv following right along with him.  After the war, Bill was reinstated with the phone company and, over the years, moved up from lineman to management.  On their return from Texas, they found a house in Altadena, but came down to Long Beach on weekends to enjoy sailing and the outdoors, ultimately finding a lot on Syracuse Walk in 1963.  The family, together, actually built the house on this lot, with a rush to finish so that Arv’s son and daughter could begin Wilson High School in September that year.


They were a fun loving, hard-working family.  They rented their Syracuse home and bought and fixed up a home on Savona.  In 1971 with the sale of that house, they purchased one of the original model homes on Campo Walk, which by that time was a fixer-upper.  Happily it has stayed in the family as the home of her granddaughter. 


In 1974, Arv was approached by a neighbor over the garden fence, and the two of them decided that they should form a garden club…Arv Luce and Cassie Mae Curtis being the first two members of the Naples Islands Garden Club!  Arv painted every Club member’s name badge with an original water colored flower which are a constant remember of her artistry every time we pin on these badges. Even in her later years she would set up easel and brushes in her front garden and often painted with a friend. She carried on this practice until her eyes began to fail.  In 2004, President, Ginny Clark, asked Arv to do an ink sketch of the historic La Bella Fontana and it became the cover of our Garden Club’s yearly roster.


Arv and Bill shared many an adventure with the love of travel all over the world, and enjoyed sailing, camping and the outdoors with her family.  What a wonderful, gentle, intelligent lady!  At the age of 95, she passed peacefully in her sleep in October of 2018 in the home on Syracuse Walk, built by them as a family many decades ago.  Our last surviving active Charter Member, she will be greatly missed.

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