During early Apple Blossom Festivals, storefronts all around the Winchester area created apple-themed displays to show the importance and contributions of the apple industry. Out-of-state apple men were invited to be window display judges. The men did their judging and went off to celebrate their visit by attending the Stag Luncheon. What were the wives to do?
Thanks to the generosity of Marguerite and H W Butler, local orchardist, the wives were invited to a ladies’ luncheon in the Butler’s Clifford Street home. So popular it became, that by 1949, the guests had outgrown the Butler’s home. Horticulture Society members from in- and out-of-state came to the Festival. The luncheon soon became a ticketed event at the George Washington Hotel.
From a few ladies gathering in a private home to about 400- 500 attendees, the Ladies’ Horticultural Luncheon, sponsored by the Women’s Auxiliary of the Virginia State Horticultural Society, continues to be one of over 42 events of the Festival week. This year it will be held at the Lee-Jackson Restaurant at 10:30 a.m. on Friday, May 1.
Although the luncheon is now part of the Festival activities, the event is still put on by the members of the auxiliary. Dignitaries of the Festival visit, four of the Queen & Court princesses represent Horticultural Societies from VA, MD, WV, and PA. A guest speaker rounds out the event. Some noted guests bringing messages to the audiences include Margaret O’Brien in 1949, Betty Furness of Westinghouse fame, artist P. Buckley Moss, and figure skater Dorothy Hamill.
Just a few years prior to Mrs. Butler’s luncheon – 75 years ago to be exact – the women connected to the orchard industry formed an auxiliary. In 1940, the first horticultural auxiliary in the United States was born to boost “interest in the apple industry of Virginia,” as well as provide activities for the wives of growers and suppliers during meetings. In 1940, Charter members numbered 15, but only a decade later, there were more than 100 members.
The first president was Mrs. G Dayton Hodges (note cited by husband’s name) and with benevolence as part of their mission, two annual scholarships to Virginia Tech horticultural majors continue to be given in the name of the third president, Mrs. W.E. (Sarah) Lucas of Staunton. The Frederick County Extension Agent is Mark Sutphin is one of the VT scholarship recipients from the Auxiliary.
In 1955, Winchester native RoseEllen Butler (daughter-in-law of Marguerite Butler) became the president. Other grande dames of Winchester who have been president include Mrs. Hap Hill, Phyllis Baker (1968 – note the “new” use of the first name), Ruth Rinker, Betty Snapp, Elizabeth “Buffy” Cooper, Margaret Douglas, Colleen Russell, Gladys Brumback, Liz White, Linda Edwards, Tootie Rinker, Bonnie Sine, and Ruth Snapp. Certainly not an inclusive list, but these women are an overview of familiar names of Winchester and Frederick County.
This long-lived luncheon is and was a place to meet and greet, to see and be seen in your best Bloom hat, hear a speaker, win door prizes, and see the year’s celebrities up close and personal. Although, there may be fewer orchards in the area than in yesteryear, the Auxiliary has been around for 75 years with over 60 years of grand luncheons. Family traditions are part of the story: the President of the Festival is Jim Douglas, son of past Auxiliary President Margaret Douglas. This is a tradition, in concert with springtime in the valley, which remains.