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News: In Memoriam: Christine Freitag, 30th President of The Garden Club of America

 

August 03, 2018

Christine Dietrich Freitag, president of The Garden Club of America from 1993-95, and 2007 GCA Achievement Medalist, passed away on August 4.  We mourn the loss of this visionary conservationist, champion of our parks, native plants, and scenic beauty, great leader, and dear friend.

Christine was a strong force and lifelong advocate for conservation, a master gardener, and an engaged and active volunteer in countless projects in her hometown of Akron, throughout the state of Ohio, and nationally.  She worked tirelessly to conserve our natural resources and the beauty of our country and brought vision and commitment to the environment to many and varied projects within the GCA and other organizations.

“Christine Freitag was a forward thinker and activist, and she used her leadership positions in The Garden Club of America to change the face of environmental conservation,” said Anne Neal Petri, president of the GCA.  “Christine was never afraid to roll up her sleeves and use every resource available – at the local and national levels – to advance conservation, whether it was creating national parks, helping protect native plants and removing invasives, or opposing billboard blight and advancing scenic beauty.

“Back in 1988, she warned that thoughtless, unplanned land use and uncontrolled destruction of natural resources were the biggest threats to conservation and called on all of us to commit to long-term planning,” said Petri. “It is a message as relevant today as it was thirty years ago.”

Under her leadership on the Conservation Committee and then as a national officer, the GCA entered a particularly productive period of education and action around endangered plants.  The Joint Endangered Species Project of 1987 encouraged clubs to adopt an endangered species and publicize the dangers it faced, promoting its cultivation. In 1991, when Christine was first vice president of the GCA, Partners for Plants was launched, addressing the spread of invasives on public lands with a hands-on program to remove and replace them with natives.  

Other accomplishments as president which she found especially gratifying included helping to advance the impact of flower arrangers within the GCA and leading a reorganization of Headquarters staffing.

Born May 21, 1934, Christine was married to Robert William Freitag, and they recently celebrated their 61st anniversary. She was the mother of two daughters, Christina Klemm, artist, teacher, and art therapist, and Amy Freitag, landscape architect and philanthropist and herself recipient of the GCA Achievement Medal in 2017.  Christine was a devoted grandmother of three. 

She received a bachelor’s degree from Randolph-Macon Woman’s College before launching an impressive career of volunteer action.  Among the many organizations she served were the Junior League of Akron, the Women’s Board of Akron Children’s Hospital, Planned Parenthood, the Ohio Environmental Council, Old Trail School, Akron Art Museum, the League of Women Voters, the Conservancy for Cuyahoga Valley National Park, the Ohio & Erie Canalway Coalition, Cascade Locks Park Association, Canalway Partners, and the City of Akron Planning Commission.

She joined Akron GC in 1971, following in her mother’s footsteps.  In 1981 she was appointed Zone X Conservation Committee representative, immediately establishing herself as an effective advocate for the environment.  After learning about a program developed by the Center for Plant Conservation designed to communicate the importance of saving rare and endangered plants, Christine toured every club in her zone to describe the threat to rare plants and what could be done.  In her own words, she was “hooked.” In 1987, she became chairman of the Conservation Committee of the GCA. In 1989, she was named a vice president of the national organization, then first vice president in 1991.

Christine founded Friends of Metro Parks in 1991, the first Ohio grassroots park support group, which she led for many years.  In 1996, she founded Scenic Ohio, devoted to preserving and enhancing the scenic character of Ohio’s communities and countryside and served as its chairman and executive director.  

Well into her 70s, Christine was in the field pulling invasive plants from public lands.  For example, she identified a problem with invasives in two areas of Cuyahoga Valley National Park and determined to do something about it.  In 2003, she led garden club members from Cleveland, Columbus, and Dayton in a GPS inventory of the areas of concern. The following year, Akron GC members began removing the invasives.  “Pulling garlic mustard in the Cuyahoga Valley and in Summit Metro Parks has been especially satisfying,” she once observed.

Christine was recognized for her contributions to the GCA when she received its 2007 Achievement Medal for “outstanding achievement and in tribute to creative vision and ability in the interpretation and furtherance of the aims of the GCA.”  In addition to this award, she also received the GCA Medal of Merit in 1992 and Zone X Creative Leadership Award in 1997. 

Among the many other honors she received, in 2002, Christine was the first recipient of the F.A. and Gertrude Seiberling Award given by Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens to an individual embodying philanthropic character and spirit.  Christine received a Landscape Architecture in Ohio Award in 2004 and was inducted into the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Hall of Fame Award in 2006.

In a 2010 interview that touched on her association with Akron GC and the GCA, Christine observed, “I found it much more appealing than any of the other organizations I’ve ever belonged to.  I’ve enjoyed the garden club most. You learn a lot from the people who are more experienced than you are, and I find that fascinating.”

Members of Akron GC invite her GCA friends to join them in honoring Christine’s legacy with a memorial gift to the Blackburn Conservation and National Affairs Fund of the GCA endowment.

 

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