FOUNDERS AWARD 2016: DICK & HELAINE DUNMIRE TRIBUTE
2016 Dick & Helaine
Dick was a founding member of Western Horticultural Society in 1963 and passed away in November 2014. An avid gardener, he shared plants from his garden at the monthly meetings and along with a few others was a “walking plant encyclopedia” at the meetings.
After completing his Master’s in English and teaching at University of Kansas, the Dunmires returned to California in 1959. He worked at Montebello Nursery in Los Altos, which deepened his knowledge and passion for horticulture. Sunset editors would come into the nursery and after freelancing a number of articles for Sunset, they asked him to join as a staff writer and editor in 1963.
Dick’s first assignment was editor of the massive 1967 Western Garden Book with the garden editor of the magazine. After the book, Dick continued on as a writer/editor and botanical/horticultural expert with the magazine until retiring in 1989, although he continued to work on all editions of the Sunset Western Garden Book through 2001. His wit, astounding recall and plant knowledge enlivened many a WHS meeting!
A Tribute from their Daughter, Annelise Krinsky
Like everyone, I always dreaded the loss of my parents; not only because they were good, caring, wonderful people but because it meant that at some point I would have to stand in front of a group of people and make a speech. As comfortable as my Dad was in front of a crowd, I’m the opposite.
My parents exemplified the notion that one can do well by doing good. They were aided by Bay Area property values and Prop. 13, but still . . . They worked at careers they loved where they could help people each in their own way. You know their many professional accomplishments as well as I do, and in my Dad’s case, probably better. But I can tell you a bit about our family.
My parents were very lucky to have been as happily married as they were and for so long. No marriage of over 60 years is perfect and we all have our moments. My Mom’s moments included making sure that no unmonitored bite of cheese made it past my Dad’s lips after 1977. And while we all marveled at my Dad’s encyclopedic knowledge and virtual total recall about everything -- literally, everything -- my Mom once commented that she thought it was possible that my Dad really was just an extremely high-functioning Asberger Syndrome case.
Her moments also related to one of the things that we all loved most about my Dad. His dry humor and wit could always break up a room. My Dad wasn’t a gusher but he kept her laughing for almost 62 years. And while she MIGHT have wanted some gushing from time to time, she really appreciated the humor. Once at a horticultural meeting the participants introduced themselves and then introduced their wives, their help-mates, soul-mates and chroniclers of horticultural adventures from New Zealand to the Russian Steppes, and so on. The descriptions continued one more florid than the next until my Dad introduced himself and said, “and this is my paramour, Madame Pompadour."
He did gush in the form of original poems to my Mom, every Valentine’s Day and most birthdays. He also always made dinner for her on Mother’s Day and special occasions were always remembered with yellow roses and heather with which he had wooed her before their marriage. They honeymooned at the Pine Inn in Carmel and returned to it virtually every year for their anniversary.
He was fortunate to have worked at Sunset during it’s golden years. In the way that Sunset was turning it’s Menlo Park headquarters into a laboratory for gardening, cooking and defining “western living”, our yard was his laboratory for growing; finding out what could grow, would grow or wouldn’t stop growing in the case of bamboo. We grew up in Los Altos’ golden years. My Dad gardened, my Mom canned. My brother and I rode our bikes and played out in the street with the neighborhood kids until everyone was called home to dinner.
My Dad spent most Saturdays out in the garden raking, hoeing, planting and finally, watering before coming in to clean-up and pour for my Mom and himself their one scotch and soda of the week to be enjoyed with increasingly lower-fat cheese and crackers.
My Mom always harangued him to show my brother and me how to do all these things but the old saw, “those who can: do, and those who can’t: teach” was never less true than of my Dad. He figured out in his early years commuting between Stanford and the University of Kansas that he didn’t want to teach and thus switched to his second love: gardening and horticulture. He was at Montebello Nursery in Los Altos for many years where Sunset editors met him and solicited free-lance articles. They soon hired him and the rest, as they say, is history. I once asked my Dad why he chose not to finish his dissertation and complete his Ph.D. He said he had simply come to the conclusion that there was nothing useful left to say about Thomas Hardy. My guess is, considering the source, that this was true but don’t tell that to any Hardy scholars after 1959.
We all knew his dry sense of humor and sharp wit. But at home he was never happier than in the garden or buried in a book. And as much as he made other people laugh, he was sometimes impervious to laughter around him. When we first started going to Inverness, we rented Roxy Ferris’ cabin. It was the beginning of the Scandinavian furniture trend and Roxy had a teak, slat-style couch that pulled out into a bed. Lovely and convenient but not so stable. This was the summer that my Mom read, “Portnoy’s Complaint”. Every 8 minutes she would laugh so hard that the couch started thumping. Forever after, this was known as a “couch thumper.” Something could be funny but not everything rose to the occasion of a couch thumper. But if my Mom started, then that would set me off until tears were flowing. My Dad would look at us and ask what was so funny. So of course that would make us laugh harder. The night of Carol Burnett’s spoof of Gone with the Wind, my Mom and I laughed along with millions of Americans while my Dad looked on. When Carol Burnett came down the stairs with the curtain rod across her shoulders we laughed until our sides hurt. While America enjoyed its longest sustained laugh in television history, my Mom and I went on even longer because my Dad kept asking, “what’s so funny?”
Of course the irony won’t be lost on any one here that I had to move to Maine to learn to speak Spanish and to love gardening. I understand the passion of Brits, for instance, and New Englanders for their gardens. There is so little time to enjoy the profusion of color, blooms, and to experiment with what will or won’t grow.
We found lots of beautiful gardens to visit when my folks came to Maine as well as Surry Gardens, an excellent retail nursery less than a mile from our Inn. We spent many a happy hour wandering through the collection. Of course, he memorized seemingly immediately what they had and happily provided assistance to Surry Gardens’ customers. The stoner employees stood by amazed when my Dad jumped in to answer questions about various plants. He would tell them “it might grow here but they don’t have it”, or, “they have it but don’t bother trying to grow it here.” Of course he could have told me all those adorable lewisii were never going to make it. And if your internationally recognized plant-expert father stands by while you purchase and plant four one-gallon cans of gooseneck lysimachia as if it’s not going to eat the rest of your garden alive - Just Say No!
Of course we’re never given a choice of who goes when and I always assumed that my Energizer Bunny Mom would live longer. But in it’s way her having passed first gave me the opportunity to connect more with my Dad and gardening was the medium. My trips through Surry Gardens were undertaken with my Dad on the other end of a cell phone. And once I was planting I could tell him the angle of the sun at certain times of the day, was that going to be enough?, and what do they mean by moderate sun? The sun’s the sun.
When he came to visit for a month in the fall of 2013 we had several trips to Surry Gardens. On one visit I asked about a particular plant. He told me the common name, the latin name and then, visibly stumped, he swore (a rare event), “oh damn!” I had a moment’s panic. Is this the beginning of the end? Is the computer otherwise known as Dick Dunmire’s brain beginning to lose memory? I inquired gingerly and he said “no, no, no.” Now that plants are being reclassified through DNA, he couldn’t remember the new class and it was driving him crazy. Phfwoo. This was at 93 years.
Though he was brilliant, he never boasted about his intelligence. He never quoted Ben Johnson or Alexander Pope to make other people feel that they were poorly read. It’s just that in almost every situation, Johnson or Pope or Pepys, or whoever, will have had useful things to say. The only time that I knew him to comment on his own brain power is when I told him about a tee-shirt I saw. The shirt said, “I don’t need Google, my wife knows everything.” My Dad laughed and said that Sunset needed a similar one, “We don’t need Google, we have Dick.”
In the Herculean task of emptying my parents’ home I tackled a metal filing cabinet in the garage. Not only did it bring a flood of memories, it also provided a glimpse back to things I would never have known otherwise. I found a hand-written note from Jim Wortham, chair of KU’s literature department dated 1959 wishing my Dad good luck in California and expressing how much the department was losing by his departure. We stayed in touch with his wife, Mary, until close to 2005.
Also, a letter from the principle of Hillview Elementary School with a letter enclosed from Stanford Hospital. They were evaluating a child with emotional issues and they wanted a teacher who had experience with emotional and learning disorders to interact with the child while the doctors observed. The principle recommended my Mother. The letter was from Stanford complimenting my Mom for her empathy, objectivity, and ability to draw out this child. They felt she had made a significant contribution to this child’s evaluation. The principle enclosed their letter in his own note to say how rare it is that our efforts are noticed and he wanted her to know how much he appreciated her work.
My parents were special people and always recognized as such. Through horticulture, education, family, and so on, they stayed in touch with people throughout the decades. Even my Mom’s students called periodically over the years to update her on their progress.
My Dad’s 95th birthday party was an excellent example. Friends going back five decades were present to share stories, too many Aggie jokes (where’s Warren Roberts when we need him) and good company. As Gerry DiVecchio said in a condolence note to me, it was his final bow before exiting stage right.
So thank you to everyone here. You are among those people whom they loved and appreciated for so long. I owe more than a debt of gratitude to Nancy Schramm and Diane Chambers. It was like putting magic pellets into water and watching sisters grow before my eyes. They also lugged endless boxes of stuff and are providing loving foster care to family mementos that cannot, for the time being, be hauled off to Mexico.
In my parents’ honor and in appreciation of Nancy and Diane, I present this donation to the Western Horticultural Society. I will replicate it in the years to come and hope that I can be an honorary member so as not to lose touch with you all.