Friday, September 23, 2011

Of concrete and dahlias


Concrete is dull gray and rock solid.  Dahlias are bright and cheerful with a hollow stem.  

It seems a bit ironic that a man who for decades was one of the world's experts in concrete construction, with a stellar career at a company that built major hospitals, skyscrapers, courthouses, an Olympic stadium turned Major League baseball field, as well as hotels, the Federal Reserve Bank and a major cable television complex, could have also created the flower you see in the above photograph.

Georgia Tech graduate Eugene Boeke, Jr., known to his friends as Gene, joined the Dahlia Society of Georgia in 1955.  Throughout the years, he became a successful exhibitor, grower and hybridizer, introducing several beautiful flowers like the popular Bo-bay, Bo-joy (named for his wife) and Bo-De-O, pictured above.  He also served in top positions in the Dahlia Society of Georgia, the Southern States Dahlia Society and the American Dahlia Society.  He was a show judge for decades and taught judging classes throughout the Southeast. 

I interviewed Gene for a newspaper article over 20 years ago.  I was fascinated that a concrete engineer  (or anyone for that matter) would devote so much time to one particular flower.  Hybridizing dahlias requires painstaking collecting, growing and the evaluation of countless seedlings.  Gene has a great sense of humor, and I remember that we laughed about the fact that so many dahlia society members were men.  I'm still thinking about that one.

If you grow and exhibit dahlias anywhere in the U.S. and Canada and maybe even elsewhere, you have felt Gene Boeke's influence.  He has spearheaded the American Dahlia Society's development of a new color guide and served on the committee overseeing the compilation of the most recent ADS judging manual.  In 2007, the American Dahlia Society recognized his contributions by presenting him with its prestigious ADS Gold Medal Award.

Gene and his wife have retired to north Georgia and spend time traveling the world.  At age 81, Gene, along with Joy, ventured to the Antarctic, where they rode in rubber Zodiac boats to visit penguin colonies and base camps on the frozen continent.  

While Gene has had other interests along the way (he was early on a serious stamp collector, served for years as a Boy Scout troop leader and developed a considerable knowledge of wines), he is first and foremost thought of as a man who devoted a lifetime to growing and hybridizing dahlias.

I'm sure that the field of poured-in-place architectural concrete has been greatly impacted by Gene's expertise.  But there are a lot of flower lovers out there who have enjoyed the results of his patience and devotion.  As one citation of his achievements reads:  "The world of dahlias is a better place due to Gene's tireless work, and many gardens and show tables have benefited from his lovely introductions."