As The World Turns

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This article marks the beginning of my 34th year writing with Meister Media. I take pride in working with this fine organization. I have tried to provide useful information and also share some of the human experiences I have had over the years. Some columns have conveyed the high points of our industry and some have related its trials and tribulations.

I’ve written articles about great people who have served our industry and are examples for us to follow. It is somewhat ironic that my main mentor, Dr. John Carew, was the person who introduced me to Meister Publications when John and I took our first trip to Willoughby, Ohio, in the early 1970s to meet Ed and Dick Meister. John and Dick graduated from Cornell University, Ed from Yale. John did his undergraduate work at Penn State and it was because of him and Dr. Ken Sink, another Penn State grad, that I was hired at Michigan State.

My first meeting with the Meister brothers was very intimidating. Both were very competitive, both were great golfers, and both could take command of anything and anyone around them. Neither John nor I could play golf, but I will never forget that when we entered Ed’s office, John picked up a putter, placed a ball on the floor and putted it into a hole. I was shocked, impressed and completely overwhelmed by what he did. It really took both Ed and Dick by surprise, and both said, "Do that again, John!" John just smiled and said, "Why do it again if you’ve done it right the first time?" That was one of the best lessons I learned from John Carew.

Unfortunately John died on Nov. 1, 1977 at the age of 57. I have written about him in my book, One To Grow On, and in the November 1977 Bedding Plant Newsletter.

As fate would have it, John’s wife, Patty Carew Isaac, passed away on Jan. 9, 2007 at the age of 82. She was a great lady and she was the reason my wife Barbara and I came to MSU. My interview lasted 15 minutes and I was offered the job. Then John, Patty and I had to spend the next two days convincing Barb that we should come here.

With all their skills, it was not Dr. Sink or Dr. Carew who made it happen, but Patty. Barbara considered Patty to be her mentor, and Patty helped her greatly when we first started working at MSU. Our son was just 10 months old when we had to leave Penn State and come to Michigan.

When Bethel Dewey called to let us know that her close friend Patty had died, Barbara and I spent the night recalling all the great times we had together and how much she helped us. We remembered how she could handle the greatest problems, create new things, take care of her family and be extremely grateful and helpful.

When John was diagnosed with a brain tumor, she took responsibility for her family and, with Don Dewey and his wife Bethel, managed to keep things working normally in the horticulture department.

I’ve called a number of her friends and asked them to give me 10 positive traits they would use to characterize Patty. Here is what they told me.

  1. Be meek – Patty never showed anger and she always remained cool. Even if there were pressures or problems or very difficult times, she would always be the stabilizing force.
  2. Be calm – She always knew how to bring calm to a situation. John could come home with 10 problems and the kids, Bill, John, Shelly and Jackie, could bring home 10 more and Patty could have 10 of her own, but she could handle them all.
  3. Be controlled – Patty ruled by law and order. My wife Barbara summed it up when she said, "Patty was always a lady!" She was a mentor to the women in the horticulture department. She was caring to everyone who worked with John. 
    Here is one of Barbara’s and my personal stories: John wanted me to go to England to give a talk at Lee Valley Experiment Station. This was to be my first foreign travel experience. I came home and told Barbara that I needed to go. She said, "How can you do this? We have a 2-year-old son and I’m going to have a baby in less than three months." I felt that Barbara was right, so I went to see John to tell him that I couldn’t go. Within two days, Patty visited Barbara. They had a chat and I was on an airplane to England within two weeks.
  4. Be a coach – Patty was able to provide constructive criticism. She was very charming and could suggest changes without threatening people. She helped establish a potter’s guild in Lansing. She took an idea and worked with people to develop a group that produced pottery. This group still exists today. She was able to do this because she worked well with people and could get things done.
  5. Be a questioner – Patty used this technique to accomplish her goals. She would make a positive statement and then follow it with questions. What should be done? What’s not right? What would you do? She used this talent to help start Eastminster Presbyterian Church in East Lansing.
  6. Be charitable – She served her community by starting a church, a potter’s guild and other service organizations. But more than that, Patty was charitable in giving to her family, her friends, the horticulture department, the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources and Michigan State University.
  7. Be courteous – Patty got to know people personally. She would go out of her way to do simple things that will never be forgotten. Here is another example of how she impacted our family. When our second child was born, she and John dropped by the house and delivered a gift for our new son, Wayne. Barbara thanked her. Then Patty turned to our older son, Will, and said, "We didn’t forget you, Will. Here is your gift. We love you all!"
  8. Be kind – Patty always had a smile. She would shake your hand or give you a hug. She made you feel important. She hosted many gatherings and parties at their home while John was chairman of the horticulture department. Guests included international visitors, visitors from the United States, groups and university personnel. She was the social chairperson of the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. Patty and John loved people and they were the ambassadors of the horticulture department and Michigan State University.
  9. Be grateful – Unfortunately, in the prime time of their lives, John got brain cancer and died in less than two years. It was a tough time for Patty, but she kept the family together and her close friends provided support and comfort for her. 
    Because of her strength and the help of her sons Bill and John, her daughters Shelly and Jackie, close friends Don and Bethel Dewey and many others, she moved on to another stage in her life. She met Alfred Gerald Isaac, who had also lost his spouse, and they married and lived happily for the next 25 years.
  10. Be God-like – She lived her life to help others and to show the love of God through her life.

I realize that, as the world turns, some new people get on and some people have to leave.

Life is short, but eternity is forever and the world will still turn. As John told me before he died, he was just moving to a new address. I hope that someday I will get Patty and John’s new address so we can keep in touch! 

Will Carlson is a Michigan State University emeritus professor who has devoted his career to educating growers. He also had the vision to launch Greenhouse Grower magazine with Dick Meister more than 25 years ago.

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