Central States Dahlia Society
Looking Back: The History of CSDS in its 90th Year
The Early Years
The Society was incorporated on February 26, 1932, in Illinois. It was originally formed on of the advent of the 1933-34 Century of Progress World's Fair in Chicago. The exact date when the founding members started gathering for meetings is unknown, but the original idea was to form the "World’s Fair Dahlia Society." That name was changed to Central States Dahlia Society, Inc (CSDS) as the Society was incorporated ahead of the Fair.
The classification system has received several refinements over the years, including going from a three-digit to four-digit system. The American Dahlia Society deserves substantial credit for making the handbook the valuable document we have today. That said, the original idea of classifying dahlias by size, form and color using numbers was born at CSDS. An effort will be made to encourage the ADS to restore the attribution to CSDS in future issues.
Included in this brief look at CSDS’s early years, a personal recollection from a now deceased member who first showed in CSDS's 1949 show might be of interest. This person (owning vast dahlia knowledge and credibility) expressed that during the 1940's and for years following, CSDS was influential in the North American dahlia scene. Dahlia societies on the West Coast have long organizational histories with some predating those in the Midwest and East, but separated by distance, their influence on what was happening further east was limited. This veteran mentor/member imparted that three organizations; the American Dahlia Society (ADS), located principally in New York and not as nationally focused as today, the influential Midwest Dahlia Conference (MDC), and Central States Dahlia Society were the "shakers and movers" of that era. Additionally, there was an element of competition (more like consternation) particularly between the ADS and the MDC. While it is fun to tell stories, it has little to do with our present. Today there is a more unified outlook amongst societies and conferences.
Finally, there should be mention of the annual February CSDS Birthday Party, especially since 2022 marks the founding of the Society ninety years ago. In the early years, the event was hosted in Chicago hotels. “The Dahlia” relates that it was a popular coat and tie event. Even members living out-of-state made their way to Chicago to attend, often enduring snowstorms along the way. (The roads of the 1930’s and 1940’s were not what we have today.) The annual tuber auction was held at the Birthday Party. It makes sense since the special purchases at the auction could be kept safely warm on the return home. Yes, they enjoyed a birthday cake, as we continue to do today, that is, when it is possible to gather for our annual celebration.
Annual Dahlia Flower Shows
Central States Dahlia Society hosted an annual dahlia show for all years since its founding, that is, until 2020. The world-wide pandemic “threw a wrench in the works” and the 89th show was cancelled that year. This was very unfortunate as through the Great Depression, World War II and during other disruptive events, the show always went on.
The CSDS Annual Show Schedule, is available to all exhibitors and is little changed over the years, although it is updated prior to every show. The show schedule has remained inclusive, meaning it is intended to make winning an award a reality for as many exhibitors as possible. Today we follow the lead established by our predecessors. Being a generous dahlia society was important in the past and it remains a CSDS tradition today.
There are a couple of distinctive awards that have become a historical tradition at Central States shows. A special honor table award is presented for the best single giant or large informal decorative dark red bloom (0107 or 1107) in the show. The "Pape Award" as it was called, was funded many years ago by a commercial grower from California, Mr. Charles Pape. His introduction, named in honor of his wife, Mrs. Hester Pape, was a popular giant dark red dahlia. This special award created great competition and winning the “Pape Trophy” was a big accomplishment. Over time, the dahlia ‘Mrs. Hester Pape’ declined as do most cultivars. A decision was made to retain the award, but simply award it to the best Large or Giant Informal Decorative Dark Red dahlia in the show. It has since become known as CSDS’s “club flower” since members like to compete for this award. The other award of distinction is the Largest Bloom in Show Award. While most traveling trophies were retired years ago, this one is special, and what a trophy it is! It is likely the largest trophy presented by any dahlia society. The winner has the option of retaining this " monster" until the following year's show. One winning exhibitor was so proud of winning this trophy, that he displayed it prominently in the front window of his home.
Jerry Landerholm presenting Largest Bloom trophy to Laura Matz in 2021 (photo by Ted Magura)
The show venues have changed over the years. For many years, the Garfield Park Conservatory was home to our show. This was a very popular site especially for urban dahlia growers and having over 3,000 blooms at our annual show was not unusual. Times changed and the Society voted to vacate Garfield Park. One story passed along relates that following a show, one member found the battery missing from his car. Since the early 1980’s the Chicago Botanic Garden has been the home for our show. The show at CBG has always been appealing with skirted tables, complementary linen table clothes and our classy retro signs marking the various sections.
Promotional flyer for
2017 ADS/MDC Show
On a few occasions with CSDS hosting the Combined American Dahlia Society and Midwest Dahlia Conference shows, other venues were used. During the 80's, Stratford Square and Fox Valley Mall, newer shopping centers at the time, opened their facilities to the Combined Shows. At one time, dahlia societies received compensation for putting on shows, but that was of short duration. Pheasant Run Resort was the most recent non-Botanic Garden facility where we hosted a Combined Show in 2007. (Dahlia people attending from afar still recall what a grand event this was.) The most recent ADS/MDC Combined Show was presented at Chicago Botanic Garden in 2017.
Over the years CSDS has hosted several Midwest Dahlia Conference Shows. More than simply flower shows, these events include arranging accommodations, scheduling sightseeing tours and making banquet arrangements complete with live entertainment. It has required a lot of planning and dedication on the part of membership to make these larger events successful. In fact, it takes considerable work to successfully stage our annual dahlia show. Our membership has always been there to get it done. Several exhibitors live out-of-state and travel good distances to participate in our shows. Luckily for CSDS, a number of these exhibitors have provided many of the blooms for our show. We would be remiss if we did not recognize the profound impact all supportive member/growers have had on the success of our shows.
Historical Involvement in the Community
Central States Dahlia Society has been a caring organization. This caring has extended beyond looking out for own but into the greater community. One of the earliest extensions of good will from CSDS happened shortly after the ending of World War II. In cooperation with Hines Veterans Hospital, our society supported a dahlia gardening program on the hospital’s property. Our members collaborated with the hospitalized veterans in creating a dahlia “patch.” The publication The Dahlia, contains pictures of veterans proudly displaying their garden and their blooms. Though much time has passed and all those CSDS members who participated are now gone, we shall continue to honor the good intentions they extended to our wounded warriors by supporting this therapeutic activity.
More recently, we had a cooperative educational program with the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences. For several years, our members worked with students in the horticultural department on various dahlia projects. This included growing tubers in pots, taking and rooting cuttings and growing bedding plants from seed. The students planted an outside garden using the dahlias they had grown in the school greenhouse. Classroom presentations on dahlia culture were given annually in addition to the hands-on mentoring program that took place in the greenhouse. The program was discontinued not because it was a failure, but more because the demands on the students and staff for other projects was given a greater priority and because of the natural turnover rate of the students. It was not possible to work with the same group of students for four, or even three years. We had the same group for only one year. We can only hope that some of the young people in this program, who we remember enjoyed growing dahlias, might be encouraged to do so in the future. We do recall that some students were captivated by dahlias.
During the height of the Covid pandemic our society became aware of the strong need for additional funds by community-support organizations. In 2020 and 2021, CSDS made contributions to a couple of these organizations. This was done with membership approval and a portion of the proceeds from our successful spring plant sales were donated. The total of donations exceeded sixty-seven hundred dollars. This demonstrated we can be a benevolent society in addition to other missions.
This recap would be remiss if we did not mention all the garden club presentations and presentations given to other interested societies, by our membership. To list all the members who have done this, even within the past five years, we would undoubtedly forget someone. We have many members who have always been willing to spread the word on dahlias. They have been great ambassadors for our society and the dahlia.
For years we have had a club-sponsored and successful dahlia propagation program. We have been allowed to rent space in the Mount Prospect Park District’s Friendship Park Conservatory greenhouse. Hundreds of dahlia cuttings are taken each year with the expectation that we will have an adequate number of plants to sell during our spring sales. The purpose of the program is two-fold. We produce plants to fund the operation of our society, but more importantly, we are providing an educational opportunity to any interested member (or non-member) to learn how to propagate dahlias. There has been a strong and competent group of volunteers at the core of this program. We extend our sincere appreciation to all of them. We do not want to forget about the mini propagation programs that take place in several member’s homes. A surprising number of plants come to our sales from these “independent” operations. The propagation program has brought members together to serve the good of Central States Dahlia Society.
Dahlias being propagated
(photo by Ted Magura)
Members, and others, look forward to our annual garden walks. This has become one of the most popular additions to our annual list of events. The popularity of our garden walks has grown within the past ten, or more, years. There were CSDS garden walks years ago, but recently they have become more scheduled and highly attended events. Anyone who has hosted a garden walk can tell you that grooming the yard and garden for visitors is not something you want to do every week! We appreciate all that our hosts have done to make this program a success and we also need to recognize the members who have done the solicitation and scheduling of these visits. It is interesting that members we see less frequently often appear at garden walks.
The Society holds regular meetings during the months of January through April and then October and November every year. The remaining six months of the year are dedicated to dahlias. Meeting locations have been numerous and interesting over the years. We have gone from downtown Chicago hotel meeting rooms to smoke-filled bars, to other venues including our current meeting location, the Elk Grove Village Public Library. Within the past ten years, our society has grown, and extra space has been needed for meetings. The library is an excellent location for our scheduled meetings, and we are fortunate this facility has accommodated us. The past twenty years has seen the featured special program become the main attraction of our meetings. The business meeting takes a solid third place following trips to the refreshment table. Yes, food remains an important commodity at all CSDS functions.
The Annual CSDS Picnic has become a resoundingly popular event figured into our yearly calendar. We spare no expense when it comes to providing food for members and guests. The main food and beverage items are provided by the society, with our legion of good cooks and bakers bringing much other fare to be shared. We have been lucky to have this event take place at a member’s home for several years. How convenient and pleasant that has been. While the CSDS Annual Picnic was a hit or miss proposition in earlier years, that is not the case now. All the dedication our members have shown in fundraising have made it possible to feed our people well at all events. The Annual Picnic is no exception, and no one should go home hungry.
The written word has always been an important form of communication for dahlia societies, and for CSDS, this has been no exception. The publicationThe Dahlia has been previously mentioned in this historical review of the Society. Beginning in the 1930s and through the 1960s, CSDS published this popular dahlia periodical. Designed in a magazine format, it was published twice a year -- spring, and late fall, and in some years, there was a supplemental fall publication, The Tally Sheet which contained the annual show report. Receiving these publications by post was welcomed locally, nationally, and worldwide. Receiving The Dahlia was dependent on being a CSDS member; therefore, the number of society members increased dramatically.
It was one of the most popular, if not the most popular, dahlia publication of the day. Only the circulation numbers of the American Dahlia Society’s ADS Bulletin probably exceeded that of The Dahlia. The two publications differed greatly. Along with interesting and informative advertising, there was more to read about growing dahlias in the CSDS publication. The magazine featured articles by guest contributors from around the world. One could learn of the “hottest” dahlias and dahlia growing methods in Australia, United Kingdom, as well as other European countries. Over the years, The Dahlia had different editors. The publication was a massive undertaking for a volunteer group, so expectedly, there was interest in finding someone new to share the editorial fun.
Reading the early issues, the theme of “Better Living Through Chemistry” was a prominent topic. Much was written about the latest chemicals that would make dahlias grow better and more disease free. The Spring 1948 issue contained an article on insecticides. A toxic new chemical was reported to be especially effective, so much so, that insects brought into a previously treated testing area died without even being sprayed! These articles responsibly cautioned the reader to observe all safety practices and health warnings, but the inference remained -- chemical use was necessary to grow good dahlias. Most growers have since abandoned the “if it flies, it dies” mentality. We have learned that dahlias can be successfully grown without risking one’s life to do it.
Before moving on, another mention of Edward Schoenlau is in order. The covers of The Dahlia featured Ed’s unique artwork. These hand-drawn images, so popular at the time, were also used in other publications (with or without CSDS permission). Still valued, we try to keep Ed’s special talent alive. Most recently, his cover images have appeared on our website. As a matter of information, the Society’s archives contain complete sets of The Dahlia. We also have loose copies and though safely stored; they should be shared.
The CSDS NEWS-LINE was the successor to The Dahlia. It is the publications we have today, and it has been a great resource, providing us with the latest news and information regarding society events. There have been several editors over the years, each one willing to give of their valuable time to keep us informed. Postal and printing expenses have increased dramatically since the onset of the NEWS-LINE. We are thankful most members now access this publication online. We can be proud of our current NEWS-LINE. It has become one of the better of its kind, both in digital and printed versions.
Other regular publications from Central States Dahlia Society, include a revised schedule of rules for our annual shows, with a follow-up show report and frequently, an updated membership directory. It may be interesting to learn the Society had a different sort of publication. The “Dahlia Note” was a small note card sold at nominal cost. This harkens back to a time when sending greeting cards was a popular way of extending best wishes. Pricing was one dollar for a package of four or five cards. The cards were blank excepting for a color cover featuring cactus type dahlias. The lower portion of the back had a small image our logo and the wording Central States Dahlia Society. There were repeated printings of these cards. These cards were very popular, so much so, that for years the top of the NEWS-LINE featured the wording “Home of the ‘Dahlia Note.’
In a few years leading up to the 2007 Combined ADS National and Midwest Conference Show we created the CSDS cookbook. Entitled the Do’Able Dahlia Dishes, A Handmade Cookbook of Homemade Goodness, this was a successful fundraising effort prior to the show. Over a hundred were printed and yes, there are some leftovers. We asked our members and friends to contribute their favorite recipes. It contains the “best of the best.” Printed in a large format and in a book that opens flat, it remains a handy and easily readable digest full of culinary delights. (Note: a few may still be available! )
We can tie-up this segment on publications by mentioning the CSDS My Dahlia Coloring Book. This book was completed in 2019-2020 during the height of the Covid epidemic. It captured the talents of our members. We proudly claim it as an in-house creation. We have sold some and given away hundreds. The coloring book has been a popular handout at our sales and shows. We can proclaim (at the time of this writing) there have been three printings and a need for another soon. Admittedly the run for each printing is fewer than three hundred, but to have the back cover of the book state “Third Printing” or “Fourth Printing” looks and sounds impressive.
Solid leadership has benefited Central States Dahlia Society. The leaders of our organization have been a diverse group of dedicated volunteers which has undoubtedly contributed to the success of the Society. The CSDS bylaws mandate that CSDS officers have limited terms and has never allowed the same person to serve “ad-infinitum”. The President and both Vice Presidents must rotate through on a regular basis, each serving no more than two consecutive one-year terms. The six Directors may serve three years with two new directors elected annually. This means CSDS must continually find a new batch of volunteers to take over as its leaders. Other dahlia clubs might view these restrictions as harsh and inconvenient. The question remains: While it would be less complicated to simply re-elect the current officers, is this beneficial to the organization? Perhaps part of Central States Dahlia Society’s success resulted from the necessity to find new people, with new energy, and with new and constructive ideas to lead our society.
Central States Dahlia Society, in its ninety years of history, has been served by forty-five different presidents. (There actually have been forty-eight presidencies, with three presidents serving twice, but not consecutively.) View list of past presidents. Of this number, eight CSDS presidents have been women. Studying old publications and reviewing society operations in the years following, it is obvious that female participation and dedication to the society has been a big part of our history, and CSDS has benefited greatly as a result. The dahlia has often been called “the man’s flower”, and a dahlia society has been referred to as “a man’s flower club.” Neither has been the case with Central States Dahlia Society. Women have served as presidents, vice presidents, secretaries, treasurers, and directors. We recently had a woman president who successfully guided our society through a pandemic. This was quite an accomplishment as we came out perhaps even stronger than ever. Regardless of gender, the Society has been able to find good people to guide the organization. CSDS has also had several members over the years volunteer for leadership positions on the Midwest Dahlia Conference and American Dahlia Society boards sharing the expertise and experience of our local society in broader and more influential ways.
Going forward, we trust when our members are asked to accept a leadership position, they will be willing to do so, and our society will continue to reap the benefits of good leaders.
Robust fundraising has allowed the Society to keep membership dues low. It has also made it possible to provide exceptional membership benefits. Our society could not begin to do what we do on dues receipts alone. Dues money is something that has never been needed to operate the club. Fundraising efforts can be complex, and CSDS has never been known to keep things simple. There are often multiple fundraising programs going on simultaneously. These have provided the Society with the finances to host National and Midwest Conference dahlia shows; events requiring monetary commitments that go far beyond that of our regular annual shows.
Currently there are three primary fundraising efforts. The Spring Dahlia Sale, where club members propagate hundreds of dahlia plants and offer them for sale, has most recently been the club’s largest fundraising event. For years the largest was the Annual Tuber and Plant Auction, originally held during the February Birthday Party meeting. In later years, this auction event was scheduled later in the spring and closer to planting time. After a brief hiatus due to the pandemic, the excitement and financial benefits connected with the tuber auction have been restored, and the auction has again become a preeminent event. The generosity of our attending members and friends has been phenomenal. Finally, the CSDS Show Awards Sponsorship Program does a wonderful job of financially supporting our Annual Dahlia Show awards.
Being financially stable allows the Society to support a variety of programs and activities. In addition to hosting Midwest Regional Conference and National Dahlia Shows, the funds support local activities such as providing food at special society events and offering subsidized pricing on garden and propagation supplies.
Our fundraising success is made possible thanks to all the CSDS members who are unfailingly generous with their time, talents, and finances. The willingness of our members to pitch-in has been especially effective when combined with good business acumen. When it comes to fundraising, CSDS members roll up their sleeves and get the job done.
Today and in the Future
We have now started the journey to our next 90 years. We may wonder what will be reported about us in 90 years from today. Don’t worry, that won’t be an issue for most of us. Much of the society’s early history was captured in printed word, often accompanied by photos and then presented in our publications. Though our latest NEWS-LINEs and other documents are still available in hardcopy, we are increasingly moving towards electronic media. When the day comes for someone new to review our current history, that information will be found electronically. Today’s CSDS website is the go-to source for information, and it is currently the most appealing feature of our society, excepting of course, our gatherings, our shows, and especially, our food! Our website reaches a larger number of people interested in dahlias than was possible in the past. The exposure and publicity we gain from our website is immeasurable. We expect the various forms of electronic media (social and more formal) will continue to present our society to an even broader audience in the future.
Regarding publicity, the late 1960’s and early 1970’s saw our society make a big push publicity-wise. CSDS did this by sponsoring Dahlia Queens! Yes, at least three young ladies representing Central States Dahlia Society were featured in Chicagoland newspapers and were interviewed by local radio and television personalities. They met with several prominent media people of the day. The main emphasis was directed at encouraging the public to attend CSDS’s dahlia shows. According to what was reported, it really worked. More than 25,000 people attended each of the Garfield Park Conservatory shows during those years. CSDS’s publication, The Dahlia, contained articles authored by the Dahlia Queens. Each young lady described the events in which she participated, and they all mentioned the “hype” associated with doing so. If anyone is interested in reading about this effort to put feminine beauty to work for dahlia publicity, these publications are available for your reading pleasure. The “Dahlia Queen” publicity program was of limited duration, and we can assume this particular method of bringing attention to CSDS and our dahlia shows will not be used again.
Our Companion Society to the South
The success of Central States Dahlia Society was an inspiration for the formation of the Southtown Dahlia Club. The story goes that a “Southsider” participating at a CSDS show made a remark something akin to, “My dahlias were not in top form this weekend, but they will be next weekend, and I know I would win then.” A little side bet resulted in a mini show of sorts that was held in a garage on the southside of Chicago. The story follows this southside fellow’s claim was upheld; his dahlias were indeed winners. The upshot was that all agreed there was a need for more than one dahlia society in the Chicago area. As a result, the Southtown Dahlia Club was formed. Although there has always been some healthy competition between the two clubs and both have had up and down periods over the years, the two societies have remained mutually supportive. In a geographic area occupied by more than nine million people, there is the demand and need for more than one dahlia society.
We will end by saying it’s the people, not the flower, who made Central States Dahlia Society successful. The dahlia is abundantly important to us all, but more importantly, it is the fellowship and often the friendships gained when we combine our skills and work toward common goals. This is what has sustained our society. The old saying goes, “I got into dahlias because of the flower, and I stayed because of the people.”
Submitted by Jerry Landerholm. Images provided by Jerry Landerholm and Ted Magura. Border picture by Sonia Harmon.
In celebration of CSDS' 90th anniversary in 2022, Jerry Landerholm compiled a history of our society. Many thanks to Jerry for creating such a comprehensive document that we can enjoy and reference.
The knowledge I have concerning the “older history” of Central States Dahlia Society (CSDS) comes from what I have learned from members who are no longer with us and from the CSDS publication The Dahlia. This magazine/bulletin was published from the early 1930's until the early 1970's. The publication was widely circulated (even across the globe) and it was popular for the same reason dahlia aficionados today clamor to get firsthand information about dahlias; they want to discover more about growing their favorite flower. It was a place for commercial enterprises to advertise their gardening-related products, thus it was a revenue source for the Society. To receive The Dahlia you had to be a member; that was the most likely reason for the large membership numbers. CSDS’s membership at various times was huge by today's standards, numbering more than seven hundred in various years. As with any publication, there is always the possibility for inaccuracies. We understand the recording events can be inaccurate, but once something is in print, it often becomes gospel. The same goes for what has been passed along verbally. When preserving our history, we should be as honest as possible. That is what this brief history of CSDS is going to try to do. Finally, as you read this, you will sense the pride members, past and present, share in Central States Dahlia Society, myself included.
The Society has saved archival materials, including hard copies of our current newsletter the NEWS-LINE that predate the digital age. In our possession are many duplicate issues of The Dahlia dating back into the 1930's. We were recently gifted a bound set of this publication (in beautiful condition) from the family of deceased member Richard Sandberg, a former resident of the Quad City area. Dick received these and other bound publications, including early issues of the ADS Bulletin, from his father-in-law, C. R. Miller. Both the Miller and Sandberg families were prominent dahlia growers and exhibitors in the Midwest for years. If someone is up to the challenge of combining information found in these publications with various recollections from people still active in CSDS, a more inclusive history of our society could be developed. The results of this task could be of interest to people now and perhaps even folks in the future. To reaffirm, the remembrances of the past; those recollections that were not necessarily documented but are stories that can still be retold, keep their value as we recount our history.
In both 1933 and 1934, CSDS sponsored a large dahlia garden in an area east of Chicago's Loop. The first year the garden did not do well, however in 1934 they corrected what needed fixing and the dahlias performed much better. We should not say spectacular, though from what is recorded, this unique display was popular with the visiting public. To make a garden, soil was placed it on top of hard paved surfaces. How deep was the soil? That information might be found in the society's publications, but after poor results the first year, they realized deeper soil was needed and for 1934 more soil was added. When the World's Fair was over, the membership decided that since everything was in place to have an active dahlia society, they might as well continue. Of interest is the fact that CSDS is not the oldest dahlia society in the Midwest. For example, the Milwaukee-based Dahlia Society of Wisconsin was formed in 1931, a year before CSDS. There may also be other dahlia clubs
in the region that preceded CSDS.
From reading the The Dahlia and from other information passed along verbally, one gets the impression the original founders were businesspeople. It might be conjecture, but there is a good chance CSDS incorporated in Illinois to protect and limit the liability of its officers. Not all flower club organizations in Illinois are incorporated as not-for-profits as is CSDS, nor are they required to do so.
At this point it seems proper to recognize Edward Schoenlau as one of the society’s earliest key contributors. Ed was a commercial artist by profession. He is credited with creating our logo, which is unique and without comparison. This logo appeared early and can be seen in pictures dating back to the late 1930's. It is found on the gavel that is passed to each incoming CSDS president. Our logo is also minted on the medals we exchange annually with other societies, and it is traditionally displayed on the large sign (disc) we place in our show halls. Another "treasure” of CSDS is the artwork that Ed Schoenlau gave us for the front covers of The Dahlia. Ed’s artwork was displayed widely after appearing in The Dahlia, whether with or without permission, is unknown. No other dahlia society in North America was gifted with such a talent.
CSDS Early Influence
Until 2022, the American Dahlia Society’s (ADS) Classification Handbook of Dahlias recognized the alpha-numeric system for classifying dahlias resulted from the joint efforts of Central States Dahlia Society and the ADS. This booklet that we call the Classification Book or CHD was not published by CSDS, but the classification concept was (mostly) developed by members of our society.