Remembering 9/11 And America In Bloom

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Remembering 9/11 And America In Bloom

Normal 0 false false false EN-US X-NONE X-NONE This past week we’ve been reflecting on where we were during the Sept. 11 attacks on our country 10 years ago and how our lives have changed. I was home on maternity leave with our youngest son, Devlin. My mom called and told me to turn on the television to see the tragic events unfolding.

But my husband, Steve, and I were also getting ready to drive with our three children to St. John, New Brunswick, for Canada’s Communities In Bloom (CIB) awards symposium and nothing was going to stop me from making that trip. The event was that weekend. At the time, America In Bloom (AIB) was just a pilot program, with four American communities mentored by four Canadian cities whose leaders reached out to them to be dance partners in the international competition.

The inaugural entrants were Stratford, Conn.; Monroe County, N.Y.; Portland, Maine; and Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. Our first two AIB judges were Alex Pearl, a vocational horticulture teacher near Dayton, Ohio; and Matt Rosen, who directed horticulture for the city of Des Moines, Iowa. Pearl volunteered after reading about AIB in Greenhouse Grower and Bedding Plants International recruited Rosen.

Even though I had a baby on July 20 that summer, I felt a strong responsibility for this pilot program with four cities to succeed. CIB’s Executive Director Raymond Carriere took the leap of faith with me and rallied veteran Canadian participants to recruit U.S. cities into the AIB pilot program. The idea was to fully experience the In Bloom program before doing a full launch in the United States with what would be 38 cities in 2002.

One reason CIB is so successful is each Canadian province has a competition and sends its winning entrants to the national competition. National winners are then eligible for an international competition that CIB hosts, which includes cities in European countries, too. Many winning AIB cities have participated in the international challenge, too.

Our experience in Canada was so uplifting and inspiring. Hearts poured out for America as Canadians sang our national anthem as part of the ceremony. I still have the notes I put on a card in my jacket pocket from when it was my turn to present AIB for the Canadian audience and representatives from the pilot program were called to the stage in a historic theater. I was blinded by the lights as I spoke:

“My family and I have really enjoyed our week in St. John and experiencing Communities In Bloom. Your work and your pride in your cities and towns, provinces and country are very inspiring. We see tremendous potential for this program and cause in the United States. America needs this now more than ever. The twinning of the four U.S. cities with four mentoring Canadian cities is just the beginning. We’re really excited about launching a full America In Bloom program next year. We are very grateful for the help and leadership you are providing. Thank you.”

Back To The Future

Ten years later, I continue to be inspired by the difference AIB is making from coast to coast. What’s most impressive is the long-term residual effect once a city participates. I see it every day in Westlake, Ohio, where I live, and Willoughby, where I work. These two cities were my first AIB recruits. Once people see what plants can do, there’s no turning back. The key is to get In Bloom programs planted properly, and growers, garden retailers and landscapers are the experts who can do that.

Another aspect that has been really gratifying is to see others invest so much of their hearts, time and talent into the cause. I’m so glad I recruited Jack and Diane Clasen at an International Master Gardeners conference in Orlando in May 2001. Jack now directs the AIB judging and Diane continues to be one of our most dedicated international judges. They lived near Cincinnati and I thought it would be convenient with AIB being in Columbus.

Evelyn Alemanni is my absolute hero! She joined AIB as a participant representing Elfin Forest in California and has done so much as a board member, judge and overall ambassador. She just published a “Best Ideas” book, capturing the best from all the AIB cities in the last 10 years.

OFA and AIB’s Executive Director Laura Kunkle have done a tremendous job managing AIB on a shoestring budget with declining voluntary contributions. Now that we have a real track record, the industry needs to get behind it! It’s no longer a leap of faith but a true grassroots model for success. Plant it in your markets.

After 9/11, the AIB Task Force lead by Ron Pierre knew AIB’s meaning would be much greater than just selling more plants and flowers. It would bring communities together to heal, rebuild and appreciate their assets. It would become a catalyst for neighborhood revitalization and economic development, turning blight to bright, even fighting crime. As president of our AIB Board, Marvin Miller has always seen this much bigger picture.

I am so looking forward to the 10th America In Bloom Symposium and Awards Program chaired by AIB board member and judge Katy Moss Warner, who is also emeritus president of the American Horticulture Society and used to direct horticulture at Disney. If you had ever thought about getting involved in AIB, you should seriously consider attending the symposium Oct. 6-8 in Washington, D.C. To register for the symposium, get your town involved next year or to buy the “Best Ideas” book, visit

Delilah Onofrey directs Flower Power Marketing for the Suntory Collection. She can be reached at

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