A Message to our Tropiflora Friends
Last Monday night something extraordinary occurred. Marianne Kennel and the Sarasota Bromeliad Society held a special event. It was to honor Linda and I for our contributions to the Bromeliad Society and bromeliads in general. I was surprised. Okay, I knew that Marianne with the help of Ray Lemieux planned to recognize Linda and me. It's part of a series giving recognition to those who have been influential in our local club. Never did I have any idea that something on this scale was in store.
We arrived at the great meeting room of the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, where the SSBS meets. Tables were set and ‘oldies’ music was playing in the background. The first person that I noticed was Bob Wright from San Diego California. Wow, it was great to see him. “What brings you here?” I asked. “You and Linda” was his reply. Seeing Bruce Holst, Selby’s director of botany and SSBS member was not a surprise. Then I noticed other folks that I have rarely seen at our bromeliad meetings. Mr. Billbergia himself, Don Beadle, and his wife Joann and Herb Hill of Hill’s Raingreen Tropicals a renowned hybridizer and now cloning lab owner. BSI past president Tom Wolfe and his wife Carole from Tampa. Our good friends, artist Steve Littlefield and his wife Kathy from Clearwater were there. I was very surprised to see Gary and Donna Schneider from Pine Island Tropicals had come all the way from Pine Island.
Of course, our head grower at Tropiflora, Brian Weber, was there. Maybe his first time to an SSBS meeting. Neighbors and owners of Techniflor orchid nursery, Tina and Rafael Romero attended. Tina’s father Henrique Graf in Venezuela has been like family to us since 1975. Ken Stokes came from Tampa and Donna and Michael Kiehl from Michael’s Bromeliads in Venice. Many of our friends from Sarasota and Bradenton were there too. Inez Dolatowski who has been a friend for many years. Ken Phelps and Bob Stickney were there, along with Bob and Camille Thinnes who are all always faithful helpers at our festivals. So were our nurseryman friends Mitch Armstrong and Annie. Larry and Susan Sousa came from the Florida West Coast Bromeliad Society. Tom and Carole Wolfe brought a van-full of members from the Tampa Bromeliad Guild. Vicky Churnside from the Caloosahatchee Bromeliad Society was there. There were many more. With all the things going on, I have forgotten some. It was so good to see them all.
Linda knew more than I did about the planned event. Even so, the scope of it all surprised her. My thoughts were in every direction. I was stunned, honored, embarrassed, proud and humbled all at the same time. Most of all I was proud of our family who came out in force. Our daughter Robin and son Scott both gave heartfelt statements. Even some of our grandchildren spoke. Fifteen-year-old Daniel and his sister, twelve-year-old Isabel. Both are Robin’s children and they made us especially proud. Nine-year-old Kayleigh and six-year-old Khloe, Scott and Heather’s children were a delight. I think all the ceremony and photos of their grandma and grandpa in the jungles impressed them. It was a rare moment and one that I never saw coming.
Marianne and Ray took turns reading cards and letters sent from people who could not attend. There were a lot. One from Tom Wolfe (who attended) as past president of the BSI. Another from Lyn Wegner of the Bromeliad Society of South Africa. She is the current BSI president. We received framed copies of both letters. It was a special honor for Linda and me.
It’s very difficult to say how all this made me feel. I can’t speak for Linda, only my own thoughts. It was indeed an honor, especially coming from our dear friends of many years, near and far. To receive such a tribute from those whom I myself respect so much is more than I could hope for. Looking back, I can’t see how my life in the bromeliad world has been so exceptional. There are many others, some in that room last night, who deserve these honors more than I do. Linda rarely gets credit for all that she does. My higher visibility shadows the things that she does day in and day out. For me and for Tropiflora and for our extended bromeliad family. I can't deny that I would not be where or who I am today without her support and love. To see her honored along side of me truly makes my heart swell with pride.
I do want to say from the heart how much we have loved our lives as part of the bromeliad community all these years. We love the plants, the work, the travel, the adventure but most of all the wonderful people we have met. We have grown to love and cherish our friends from all over the world. It has been a great privilege to know so many excellent and accomplished people. It's a blessing to have them as friends. I've spent almost fifty years collecting bromeliads. Enjoying them first as a hobby and then as a livelihood, Linda and I are passing the torch to our children. Is it too much to hope that one day it will pass to our grandchildren? Life has been wonderful. How much more could anyone ask?
Thank you all for your years of kindness and friendship.
Dennis and Linda Cathcart