Finally, the experts were listening. By 1934, the U.S. Soil Conservation Service began encouraging southern farmers to plant kudzu as a soil preserving, nitrogen building ground cover. They placed a large order with Uncle Earl and Aunt Lillie who felt they would finally profit from their labors. However, their enterprise and hopes were dashed when they were required to put up a performance bond. They simply didn’t have the money to do so. They watched while others benefited from their thirty years of experimenting, cultivating, and promoting kudzu.
In 1948, Aunt Lillie died at the age of 87 and was buried next to her father in the Glenwood Cemetery in Chipley. Soon after, Uncle Earl age 81, took off for the Pacific Coast one last time to do what he loved most…collect specimens and commune with nature. He and Lillie were married 57 years. She had been his constant companion and supporter in all their endeavors. Before he left, he sold Glen Arden to my grandparents, Blanche (Aunt Lillie’s niece) and Herbert Dickinson of Indianapolis, whose love of nature and horticulture helped them maintain Glen Arden as a plant nursery cultivating Uncle Earl’s lovely azaleas and camellias. When Uncle Earl could no longer travel because of health, he lived his final years at Glen Arden, cared for by the Dickinson’s.
As for kudzu, the government stopped advocating it in 1953. In that same year, Uncle Earl was recognized with a testimonial dinner and an engraved trophy for his conservation efforts in Barnesville, Ga. He was proud of his accomplishments with conservation and his only request was that his efforts be mentioned on his tombstone. He died in 1955 and was laid to rest next to his beloved Lillie, the flower of his life, in Glenwood Cemetery.
It wasn’t until 1967 that his own community recognized him posthumously by erecting a historical marker in Chipley. The Washington County Historical Commission and the Florida Board of Parks & Historical Memorials joined in the placement of the marker on the grounds of the Agriculture Center. Ironically three years later, in 1970, the Dept. of Agriculture classified kudzu as a weed.
This loving couple not only made horticultural contributions to Washington County but are remembered for their artistic talents of art and photography and bringing about a quality of life that ultimately enriched their neighbors’ lives. Any amount of time spent at Glen Arden leaves one with peace, serenity and an appreciation of the natural world.
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