For the Waterlilies, Why Can't We Just Get Along?


OPINION—Recently I was asked to serve on the board of San Angelo Botanical Gardens, Inc. After speaking to several concerned parties I discovered that I stepped into a quagmire that has been festering in San Angelo for some time, and has bred a level of animosity, that I never imagined. I resigned from that board Monday, March 5th.

This city is like no other, and the documented history embedded here dates to the 15th century with the Jumano, and Sor Maria. The Civic League Park dates to 1903! It’s the park bounded on the North by Harris St., on the South by Beauregard, on the West by Park, and the East by the Concho River. Think about the history that lives there. There are several 100+ year old Palm trees. There is rock work around the park and across Harris on the Central campus that was built by the WPA. That’s the ‘Works Progress Administration’ started in 1932 by President Roosevelt during the ‘Great Depression’.

In 1629 the first baptisms performed in West Texas were in the waters of the Concho. There are buildings on Concho St. that date to the 18th century and the Civic League was one of, if not the First Park here. It’s where the lily ponds are. There is a gentleman here that loves the lilies. I met him not long ago, and we spoke for quite a while. He was in waders standing in the silt of a newly drained pond. I found that he was the one who built the ponds with the permission of the city. He is the one who owns the beautiful flowers. The city pays him to maintain the collection and the ponds. His name is Mr. Ken Landon.

What exists there is an internationally renowned collection. I learned that plant hybrids that Ken developed exist nowhere else in the world. Tens of thousands of visitors each year come here to see the lilies. I met another interested, dedicated couple who were there to help Ken with maintenance. He was outside moving the plants around where directed. She was in waders too, rinsing silt down the drain. Ken mentioned that she holds a Master’s degree. It was evident that the ponds, and the lilies, would continue to be cared for long after Ken was unable to climb in and out. It is a very beautiful place, and another Pearl on the Concho. It’s the Civic League Park.

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So many times when fund raising is involved to develop long term plans, there arises conflict over how funds should be spent. For years there have been plans by the city, parks board, and the San Angelo Garden Club to further develop Civic League into a full blown Botanical Garden to expand on the rose garden that exists there now alongside the lilies. For fundraising purposes the Garden Club holds a 501c3 designation, and there are funds earmarked to eventually begin the Botanical Garden project. Politics, personalities, personal agendas, persistent opinion, and now paralysis pervade plans, and purpose. How could it be that the one person who should have a voice, Ken Landon, is excluded? Its politics, and the other four ‘P’s cited above. Why do we need two 501c3’s when the reputable San Angelo Area Foundation, the Garden Club, and foremost, the City are involved? Interference, negativism, and splitting sides just weakens the purpose.

At this point I have no idea of the amount of donations that have been earmarked over the years to develop the Civic League Park and the Botanical Garden. I did hear of a relatively small amount of funds that were raised, being held by the Garden Club that prompted in the eyes of the group that raised those funds, to form a second 501c3. That was the group I was asked to be a part of, and when I learned of the vitriol that pervades the issue, I resigned. Over those few months that I was involved, and in the process of discovery, it was revealed that Dr. Chase established a fund from his estate at the Area Foundation to maintain the Lilies in perpetuity! That’s a start!

I had expressed to our Mayor, the Parks Department Director, members of the Parks Board, Mr. Landon, and others, that whatever happens moving forward in regard to the Botanical Gardens would be ‘Fair to all parties concerned’. I am now an impartial, passionate observer, with an opinion.

The first thought I had regarding the park was that there must be a fence. The same was expressed to me by others, and Mr Landon. He explained that Trinity Park in Dallas contacted him about building Lillie Ponds there. Ken advised, helped and probably supplied many of the lilies to get them started. Then after the grand opening many thousands of dollars’ worth of plants were stolen in a week! No fence ….

Thankfully our community appreciates the beauty, and history, of the Civic League Park, the internationally recognized Lilly collection, and a vision for another ‘Pearl on the Concho’ that will grow into the San Angelo Botanical Gardens! We could start with a fence, and get along from there. Pearls take a pretty long time to develop. I just hope I’m still around to see it form.

My thoughts and Prayers are with all parties concerned …. God Bless and Be Safe Always!

Sam Smith

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Such a treasure for San Angelo. Hoping that good decisions are reached and include Mr. Landon in the
decision making.

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