Reed City flower tradition wilting

REED CITY — For seventeen years, the sides of Chestnut Street in Reed City have been lined with nearly 14,000 petunias, welcoming travelers and greeting locals from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

After a summer of struggling to survive with not enough volunteers to water and fertilize, the Reed City Area Chamber of Commerce has decided not to plant the flowers again next year.

The tradition began seventeen years ago as the dream of two Reed City retirees Lois Horchner and Mary Lou Proefrock.

“We vacationed in Ludington for a family reunion every year and they had planted flowers there and it looked so nice and I thought we should do that in Reed City,” Horchner said. ‘I approached the city (of Reed City) and they said that’s strange because just the other day Mary Lou had been in there about the same thing.”

The pair who shared the common dream joined forces and undertook the labor-intensive project of organizing and planting petunias to beautify their city.

They investigated the petunia-planting system Ludington had established and divided up the duties of organizing the project. Proefrock handled the financial aspects and Horchner organized and recruited volunteers.

“They organized the whole thing and they did a lot of work,” said Suzie Williams, executive director of the Reed City Area Chamber of Commerce. “They made all the phone calls, they did all the organizing and they got all their friends and family to help out.”

The first few years of planting, volunteers planted red, white and blue flowers in a patriotic theme. Over the years, the flowers changed to be a variety of colors.

“People would tell me how nice (the petunias) are,” Horchner said. “People coming from out of town really like them.”

After years of organizing the community project, Horchner retired from the planting a few years ago and Proefrock also retired two years ago. Since then, the Reed City Chamber of Commerce has taken over the responsibilities of the annual project and has struggled to find volunteers willing to donate regular time to tend the flowers.

“They should be watered five days per week and this year they were watered three days per week because we didn’t have enough people,” Williams said.

The annual project begins in February when 14,000 petunias are ordered with donated funds. Nearly 100 community members come together the last Saturday in May to plant the flowers along Memory Lane.

Finding volunteers to plant was not the problem, Williams said. The challenge came when necessary upkeep to the plants such as rota-tilling, mowing, preening, fertilizing, watering and weeding needed to be done throughout the summer by volunteers.

“We’ve been saying we need help for two years and very few people rise to the occasion to help take care of them,” Williams said.

With the additional retirement of the faithful volunteers who have watered the petunias for years, Williams said finding new volunteers is almost impossible.

“Finding volunteers to help water the petunias has been our biggest challenge, then when rota-tillers break down and there are no volunteers to help water or weed, it makes more work for a few people,” Williams said.

After threatening to cancel the project for months, the Reed City Area Chamber of Commerce has decided to cancel the planting next year. They plan to mow and rota-till the petunias at the end of the summer and plant grass seed to come up in the spring.

“It was a very positive thing for the community and I hate to see it lost,” Horchner said. “It would be really nice if the city took it over because it really compliments the city.”

The Reed City Area Chamber of Commerce is open to any and all suggestions and discussions about the petunia project.

“It is a big project and it’s got several different components. If different people were in charge of each component, it would work,” Williams said. “If they want to do it next year, someone has to take it over.”

Anyone interested in taking over the petunia project for the 2013 year is asked to call the Reed City Area Chamber of Commerce office at (231) 832-5431.