Cedar Valley Arboretum & Botanic Gardens In Retrospect – The first in a series by Paul Kammerdiner


History is defined, according to the dictionary, as, “the whole series of past events connected with someone or something.” For me, everything is about people. That is where the stories are. So, this is not so much a definitive history about a place called the Arboretum, but a kaleidoscope of people and what they started to do; what the collective story was and is; and what it will be. It comes from a bunch of documents, articles, and photos that I dug out of old files. Some of it may not be completely accurate, but that is not intentional. Some of it is what I see in the pictorial record, so that is open to a different interpretation. None of it is meant to be critical, political, or to further any agenda. It is, quite simply, a labor of love – my inordinate fondness for stories. Here begins my take on the story of the Arboretum.

According to an interview with Jan Guthrie and Maurine Crisp, in the late 1980’s local gardening enthusiast Dick Meyerhoff suggested starting various clubs throughout the Cedar Valley devoted to growing things. They would include organizations like the Men’s Garden Club, the African Violet Club, and the Herb Club.
Then in 1994, according to a document in our records titled, “Cedar Valley Botanical Garden Proposal,” a concept was being developed to combine these activities into an actual public space. The organizers listed in this document are Kelly Conrad, Tom Lawler, and Ron Camarata.
This concept was later modified, and Fred Button joined the group which would expand to include Waterloo and Cedar Falls Parks Departments, Cedar Valley Men’s Garden Club, UNI Preserve Alliance League, the Herb Club, Hawkeye Community College, Iowa State Extension, Harmony House Horticulture Program, and Green Scene.
This is a year for laying the groundwork for the realization of the dream.
• A task force is formed to further develop the idea of a public green space in the Cedar Valley. This task force included Charles Lott, Kelly Conrad, Joy Swartz, Jolene Rosauer, Rosemary Beach, Jan Guthrie, Craig Gibleon, Wanda Sauerbrei, Leila George, and Maurine Crisp.
• An agreement is reached with Green Scene to use their non-profit status to begin to fundraise and create public awareness of the desire to create the Arboretum. In exchange, the Arboretum would provide space for Green Scene to keep plant material.
• A town hall meeting is held March 27, 1995, to gain public interest. Approximately 100 people attend.
• In April of the same year, a newsletter is sent out via Green Scene introducing the concept of an Arboretum.
• By May, a site selection team is actively considering six sites that have been offered.
• A 74-acre plot owned by Hawkeye Community College is selected. By the summer of 1995 Tom Lawler, an attorney from Parkersburg, has assisted in the signing of a 99-year lease with the College. The site is just to the east of the college campus on Orange Road
• In September, the Cedar Valley Arboretum and Botanical Gardens at Hawkeye Community College receives its own non-profit organization status.
• October of 1995 the official ground-breaking ceremony takes place.

Arb 1995
This is the site as it looked in late 1995. Hawkeye is the group of buildings in the middle, and, using that as a reference, the Arboretum is the L-shaped red strip below Hawkeye and beside the cropland to the North. The 74 acres included much more than the red line, but this is what was developed at first.

This story is long and complex but will better show the growth of the Arboretum and the many people who have helped us to continue to grow along the way. Stay tuned to learn more about this history in upcoming newsletters!