50 year exhibitor

Ashley Smith · Wednesday, July 26, 2017
From the street, the only indication of the sprawling garden paradise behind Joyce and Ron Gauger’s Lone Tree home is a small sign that reads “This way to the garden.” An arrow points to a gate at the side of the house, beyond which you’ll find fruit trees, strawberry beds and dozens of careful rows of colorful blooms.

This summer marked the Joyce Gauger’s 50th year of bringing floral exhibits and specimens to the Muscatine County Fair. Every fresh bloom included in her arrangements comes right from her own garden.

Half of the Floral Hall exhibits is for individual flower specimens, Gauger explained.

“This year, Ron and I took about 18 specimens to the fair,” said Gauger. Among the blue ribbons they brought home this year were awards for calla lily, zinnias and Bells of Ireland.

The other half of the hall is used for thematic arrangements. This year’s theme, “Touring the USA,” included an array of table, mantel and niche arrangements representing various regions of the United States.

“We have what we call niches – boxes – for arrangement settings, and you also can create table settings and mantle settings,” explained Gauger.

There are also tables for junior entries, with kid-friendly themes like “Packing for Disneyland.” It’s important to get youth involved with exhibiting at the fair, said Gauger, since hopefully they will continue to participate as they get older.

A committee of Superintendents selects the main theme for each year, and publishes titles for each niche, mantle and table setting in the Fair Book, as well as specifications as to which arrangements may use fresh, dried or silk flowers.

This year’s arrangements included titles such as “Lobster Fest in Maine,” “Alaska Wilderness,” and “Virginia Coal Miners.” Each title is judged according to interpretation of theme, design and color, originality and condition.

One arrangement in each themed title receives a blue ribbon, said Gauger. From all the blue ribbon winners within a given medium, one Rosette is awarded for the best overall display.

This year, Gauger’s arrangement in the “Alaska Wilderness” title earned a blue ribbon and the Rosette for Best Full Size niche.

“I love to do the evergreen ones,” Gauger said. “I used cotton batting on a backdrop to create Alaskan mountains, and got out my can of spray snow.”

Gauger also received the Gary “Zip” Zimmerman Traveling Trophy this year. The trophy honors the memory of Gary Zimmerman, who served as the first president of the Muscatine County Master Gardeners program and passed away in 2011.

“It was just a thrill – I wasn’t even expecting it,” said Gauger.

Horticulture has always been a part of Gauger’s life, she said. “I grew up with it. I worked with my dad. He didn’t do flowers, but he did a lot of vegetables,” said Gauger.

Gauger’s first entry in the Muscatine County Fair was in 1967. “You walk through that floral hall building and you see what people can do, and I always thought, I would like to do that,” she recalled.

At first, however, Gauger only exhibited a few entries per year. Her three children were active in showing swine, which kept her family busy during fair week.

“Showing swine was a really big part of our life. Every year, I might exhibit only four or five floral things, and then I would leave and go down to the hog show. It was quite a few years before I did more,” she said.

Eventually, Gauger became a Superintendent for the Horticulture building. The original building had sawdust floors, and wings which contained small animal exhibits.

When in 2004 it became apparent to the Fair Board that the decaying Horticulture building needed to be replaced, Gauger and other Superintendents organized fundraisers for the cause.

“In 2005, I held a summer Country Garden Walk at our farm,” said Gauger. “Over 200 people came. We charged five dollars, but hardly anybody gave us just five dollars – they all donated more. It was just phenomenal.”

The Gaugers held other garden walks in 2006 and 2011. Each time, attendees were invited on guided tours of the gardens around the Gaugers’ West Liberty farm, and enjoyed homemade meals and pies in the family’s garage.

By 2007, the Fair Board received enough funding to construct a new Floral Hall. The old building was burned to the ground and by July 2008, the new Floral Hall was open. Clarence Daufeldt, Gauger’s uncle, passed away in 2009, and the family donated money to build a gazebo in his memory.

The Floral Hall continued to grow as funds from the Gaugers’ Fall 2011 garden walk were used to add bathroom facilities in 2012 and air conditioning in 2013.

In 2014, the Gaugers sold their farm and moved to their current home in Lone Tree. While the scope of their gardens may be much smaller these days, the attention and care the couple pours into their gardens is just as apparent.
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