on AHS Alex J. Summers Award
Warren Pollock, Glen Mills,
Alex J. Summers Distinguished Merit Award is given
annually by The American Hosta Society to honor an
outstanding contributor to the genus Hosta.
Alex Summers, who passed away at age 95
last year, was the principal founder of the AHS, serving
as its president for ten years. His horticultural and
gardening foresight, scholarship and guidance, and
continual unselfish and untiring devotion of time and
personal resources, initiated and shaped the world’s
premier organization concentrating on this herbaceous
The American Hosta Society was founded in
1968. That year I moved into a new house in a heavily
wooded, suburban development in northern Wilmington,
Delaware. It wasn’t long before I discovered that I
was severely restricted in my landscaping choices,
hostas being among the limited ornamental plants
recommended for shady sites.
Aiding me were several articles on hostas
and shade gardening that Alex and others had written for
booklets published by the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.
Mentioned was a hosta society. I made inquiries and
joined the AHS.
In 1977 my wife Ali and I made a special
trip to Long Island to visit Alex and wife Gene, who
were then living in Roslyn, and Paul Aden, who lived in
Baldwin. It was during this visit that Alex and I
initiated a friendship.
In 1979 Ali and I attended the AHS
mini-convention (there was no national convention that
year) held on Long Island. Alex’s, Aden’s, George
Rasmussen’s and Vic Santa Lucia’s gardens were on
tour. My most vivid memory of the event is the Saturday
evening’s clam bake. Vic later served as AHS
In the late 1970’s, Alex was in the
process of selling his Roslyn residence and moving to a
farm in Bridgeville, Delaware. The new site was in the
southern part of the state, not far from the Maryland
state line. The area is rural, prominent in raising
chickens; Purdue and Tyson companies have large poultry
Alex wanted to escape the high taxes and
congestion on Long Island in his “retirement years.”
He found the Bridgeville property when visiting Clarence
“Beets” Lantis, a good friend who had moved to
southern Delaware from Long Island in his retirement to
escape high taxes and congestion on Long Island. Beets
was a hosta and daylily enthusiast, active in the AHS in
its early years.
Alex made numerous moving trips in his car
to his future home, crossing the twin-scan bridge over
the Delaware River connecting New Jersey with Delaware
on Interstate 95. Since I then lived only 25-30 minutes
from the bridge, we would often meet on the Delaware
side for coffee and a bite. (Alex liked his coffee “high-octane.”)
The stop and conversation were a respite from the
stressful drive in Long Island, through New York City
and then on the New Jersey Turnpike, all heavily
The friendship grew. I got to know Alex
quite well, and Gene too as she occasionally accompanied
him. I learned a lot about The American Hosta Society
and hostas. I think it fair to say that at the time,
Alex J. Summers knew more about hostas then anyone else
anywhere. In addition to his having a wealth of
practical gardening information, I was always amazed at
this knowledge of the scholarly publications of Japanese
and European authorities; he could recite portions of
their publications almost word for word. I was honored
– and greatly appreciative – that he was my hosta
Alex J. Summers was a gracious and caring
man. He was most generous. He often transported plants
to Bridgeville and wanted to give me pieces. I almost
always refused because I didn’t have room for them in
our small, tightly designed, heavily shaded
|1982 - Alex J. Summers
|1983 - none
|1984 - Peter Ruh
|1985 - Warren Pollock
|1986 - Frances Williams
|1987 - Diana Grenfell
|1988 - Mildred Seaver
|1989 - Eldren Minks
|1990 - Jim Cooper
|1991 - Olive B. Langdon
|1992 - Herb Benedict
|1993 - Pauline Banyai
|1994 - Robert Savory
|1995 - Russ O'Harra
|1996 - George Schmid
|1997 - Clyde Crockett
|1998 - Nancy Minks
|1999 - Kevin Vaughn
|2000 - Mervin C. Eisel
|2001 - Mark Zilis
|2002 - Van R. Wade
|2003 - Bob Solberg
|2004 - Bob Olson
|2005 - Kevin Walek
|2006 - C.H. Falstad III
|2007 - Jim Wilkins
|2008 - Donald Dean
|2009 - Mary Schwartzbauer
|2010 - Bob Axmear
In the mid-1970s I initiated a
successful national campaign to have a prestigious professional
engineering society name an annual award in honor of my graduate
dissertation adviser. He was a distinguished, highly regarded, world
authority in his scientific niche, and directly responsible for my
obtaining a prominent position with a major industrial company. In
years following graduation, he became a close personal friend.
In ’79-’80, having this engineering award experience
fresh in mind, I realized the AHS had no award prestigiously
recognizing a major contributor to the genus. I thought the society
not only should have one but it should carry Alex’s name. There were
considerable similarities between my technical and hosta mentors.
I broached the subject with Alex and he was in favor of
such an AHS award – but against its bearing his name. He thought it
should be called The American Hosta Society Award. I can reveal that
Alex was so opposed to his name on the award that he refused to
discuss the subject with me for over six months.
I continually gave my arguments for
an award with his name, and his response always was just a stare. I
argued that an award with the AHS’s name alone would not have the
international impact and prestige as would one with his name.
Furthermore, I strongly personally believed Alex deserved the
Alex Summers at
Honeysong Farm in 1991
The award was to include the Alex J. Summers Distinguished Merit
Hosta. This hosta would be the recipient’s choice, announced by
the recipient at the award ceremony. My aim was for the first
presentation to be at the 1982 AHS National Convention with Alex
the first recipient.
I mentioned the total concept to AHS officers, board
advisors and other prominent members. All were positive. Still
needed though was Alex’s approval.
A plan developed to have Gene try to convince him. I
don’t know how she handled the issue and what finally won Alex
over, but I received a phone call from him saying he agreed.
However, greatly to my surprise, he carefully added that he wanted
certain conditions applied that I could not reveal openly. Now
with Alex’s passing, I am taking the liberty of mentioning them
for the first time:
- He wanted to have approval of
who received the award. I thought this odd, as there would be
a special award committee and Alex of course would be a key
member. But Alex wanted black-balling power. (I will not say
more, other than he used this authority several times during
my involvement with the award.)
- He wanted the second award
recipient to be Peter Ruh, who was then AHS vice-president.
Alex said that Pete was an important, often behind-the-scenes
and unrecognized contributor, greatly responsible for moving
the society forward.
- He wanted Mrs. Frances
Williams, whose discovery of the large variegated-leaved
cultivar bearing her name started the high interest in hostas
in the U.S., to be a very early recipient.
- He wanted Eldren Minks and
Robert Savory to receive the award but stipulated they
probably should not immediately follow Mrs. Williams. Eldren
was then president and Bob was a long time, advisory board
O.K., the award was quickly initiated. Jim Cooper, 1982
president and that year’s national convention chair, asked me
to write the award description, design a certificate and make
the presentation at the 1982 convention.
I bounced my description thoughts off of Olive
Bailey Langdon, a lawyer active in the society who followed Jim
as president, and this was decided:
…given to a member of the Society in recognition of having
given outstanding service to the development of the genus Hosta,
the Society, or both."
before the convention I asked Alex to tell me his selection for
the Distinguished Merit Hosta, as I wanted to inscribe the
certificate with the name. Continually he responded that he
hadn’t decided yet. As it turned out, he didn’t decide until
during the convention. One of the tour gardens was Bettie
Jernigan’s in Dunn, North Carolina, and there Alex saw a group
of ‘Pearl Lake’ clumps in full bloom. They so impressed him
that he immediately selected this cultivar.
Alex’s award address was printed in the 1983 The
American Hosta Society Bulletin (Vol. 14, p. 5). This annual
publication was the precursor to today’s The Hosta Journal. There is a direct reprint of this
article here in this issue.
In considerable detail Alex described what qualities a hosta
must have to suit his taste. They still are timely. I wish more
hostas, both sports and seedlings, coming into the marketplace
these days met them.
choice - 'Pearl Lake'
Ruh of Chesterland, Ohio, was the second Summers Award recipient,
receiving it in 1984. His Summers Distinguished Merit Hosta
choice was ‘Antioch’. He is still active with hostas.
Some other recipients: Frances Williams was honored
in 1986; she passed away many years before and her daughter Connie
accepted the award, selecting – what else? – ‘Frances
Williams’. Diana Grenfell, the British hosta authority and
author, received the award in 1987. Her selection was
‘Halcyon’, honoring Eric Smith, the noted British hosta
hybridizer. In 1988 Mildred Seaver received the award, selecting
Eldren Minks was honored in 1989; he chose
‘Platinum Tiara’. And Jim Cooper was honored the next year; he
selected ‘Sum and Substance’. In 1992 Herb Benedict was the
recipient, choosing ‘Great Expectations’. Pauline Banyai
received the award in 1993, selecting her classic ‘Gold
Standard’. In 1994 it was Bob Savory, choosing his classic
‘Golden Tiara’. Russ O’Harra was honored in 1995. He chose
In 1996 George Schmid received the award, selecting H.
laevigata – not surprising for this species authority. Merv
Eisel, the first Hosta registrar, was recipient in 2000.
His choice was ‘June’. In 2001 it was Mark Zilis, who selected
‘Krossa Regal’. Bob Olsen was the 2004 recipient; his choice
was ‘Bridegroom’. And in 2007 Jim Wilkins was honored,
selecting ‘Dorothy Benedict’. Don Dean received the award in
2008, choosing his ‘Silver Bay’.
At this writing there are 28 recipients of the AHS
Alex J. Summers Distinguished Merit Award. Seven are women. Eight
were AHS presidents. Five were Journal editors; one
currently is. Two were International Hosta registrars; one
currently is. Nine are deceased, one receiving the award
posthumously. Mildred Seaver is the oldest living Summers Award
An exciting aspect of the award is the recipient is
not known until announced at the Saturday banquet. Prior, only a
special Summers Award committee, the recipient and his or her
family members are suppose to know. Even so, there is an almost
sure way of determining who at the banquet is to be honored before
the announcement: Family members accompanying the recipient at the
dining table are a give-away.
A notable example was when Bob Solberg received the
award at the 2003 convention. His three grown-up and very
prominently noticeable children were sitting with him: they were a
sure indicator. Bob’s selection was ‘Corkscrew’, his own
I say “almost sure way” because I didn’t
recognize the significance of C.H. Falstad III’s wife sitting
next to him at the 2006 convention banquet. Early in the evening I
went over to his table, introduced myself to her, had some
chit-chat with C.H. and went away without a clue that he is the
award recipient. H. plantaginea ‘Aphrodite’ was his
From 1982 to 1996 I was AHS Awards and Honors chair.
At each presentation I always explained the Summers Award; read
the list of all the previous recipients; introduced those
recipients present, asking each to stand up; and mentioned all of
the Summers Distinguished Merit Hosta names. A slide of each hosta
was shown – which required a 35-mm. projector and an operator,
and the ballroom to be somewhat darkened and then lighted again.
In addition to being educational, the production was somewhat
theatrical and dramatic, intended to be an exciting build-up to my
eventually proclaiming in a strong voice: “And this year’s AHS
Alex J. Summers Distinguished Merit Award recipient is (pause for
|1982 - H. 'Pearl
|1983 - none
|1984 - H. 'Antioch'
|1985 - H. montana
|1986 - H. 'Frances
|1987 - H. 'Halcyon'
|1988 - H. 'Tokudama
|1989 - H. 'Platinum
|1990 - H. 'Sum
|1991 - H. 'Golden
|1992 - H. 'Great
|1993 - H. 'Gold
|1994 - H. 'Golden
|1995 - H. 'Sagae'
|1996 - H. laevigata
|1997 - H.
|1998 - H. 'Alvatine
|1999 - H. 'Breeder's
|2000 - H. 'June'
|2001 - H. 'Krossa
|2002 - H. 'American
|2003 - H. 'Corkscrew'
|2004 - H. 'Bridegroom'
|2005 - H. 'Guardian
|2006 - H.
|2007 - H. 'Dorothy
|2008 - H. 'Silver
|2009 - H. 'Her
Eyes Were Blue'
|2010 - H. 'Paradigm'
| Of course
this production took considerable time. As the number of
recipients increased, the time required increased too. Today with
28 Summers recipients, such a lengthy presentation is not
Finally, a word about attire: My thinking always was
the award presentation should have a professional appearance. I
always wore a suit and tie – though once it was a tuxedo. Kevin
Walek chaired the 1995 convention and told me he would be wearing
a tuxedo at the Saturday night banquet. Not to be outdone, I wore
my tux. The word must have gotten out to attendees because their
dress at the banquet, in general, was considerably less casual
then I recall in previous years. My observations are that recent
awards banquets have become more casual.
At right: The
author in 1982