GOS Library



History of the Gainesville Orchid Society

The Early Years

The Gainesville Orchid Society was organized in the early 1960s by a group of approximately 15 orchid enthusiasts. Among those original members were Dr. Tom Sheehan and his wife Marion Ruff Sheehan, Mrs. Ruby Rains, Dr. Henry Wallbrunn, Mr. “Red” Shea, Mrs. T. Lynn Smith, Dr. Joe Beckenbach, Dr. and Mrs. Harry Wise, Dr. and Mrs. Shaw Grigsby, Mrs. Billie Lawson, and Mrs. John Kreager.

Meetings were initially held at a church on NW 6th St., now Atelier of Amy Berner Interiors. Dues were $2 for individuals and $3 for couples. Meetings in the early days were very much like meetings today, especially the plant table judging. Dr. Henry Wallbrunn, a University of Florida geneticist and well-known orchid hybridizer, often presided over the plant table. Just like present day, there was good-natured bantering surrounding the discussions over the merits of the best flowers. Dr. Tom Sheehan recollected a plant table discourse where Wallbrunn was extolling the superior qualities of his own Cattleya aclandiae as compared to that of a Cattleya aclandiae brought in by Dr. Joe Beckenbach, then Director of Research at the University of Florida. Beckenbach allowed Wallbrunn to complete the critique, at which point Beckenbach announced that the plant in question was indeed a division of Wallbrunn’s own plant. Dr. Beckenbach, also an orchid hybridizer, was known for his Encyclia crosses, many of which were registered. Beckenbach attempted to develop cold hardiness in tropical orchid hybrids using Encyclia tampensis and Epidendrum magnoliae.

Mrs. Ruby Rains, owner of Rains Flower Garden, contributed to the growing popularity of the orchid society by chairing shows and sharing her flower arranging talents. Mrs. Rains' collection included more than 1000 orchids.

In the early years, GOS had “showings” of orchids for the public to enjoy. These were not AOS-judged, but rather were displays similar to the plant table at meetings. Marion Sheehan, well-known for her botanical illustrations, designed the posters for the early shows. Some of the venues for the early showings and subsequent AOS-judged shows were the Thomas Center, the First National Bank on N. Main St., Westwood Middle School Cafetorium, Miller’s Buick, Brasington Cadillac, B&G Motors, Oaks Mall, Elks Club, Tower Club and Savannah Grande.

Recalling highlights of past shows, Dr. Tom Sheehan remembered a particular show themed “Orchids: Past, Present & Future.” The Sheehan’s display installed by Tom and his wife, Marion, illustrated the theme with three sections. The “past” section had an old microscope with a classic species orchid. The “present” section nicely displayed an illustrated book and a beautiful hybrid. However, the “future” section, intended to illustrate the future of orchid hybridizing, showed a very large cattleya with hot pink petals and pure white lip. This orchid raised much consternation among the judges, who refused to judge the display on account of the flower having been “artificially modified.” Indeed, Marion had used pink paint to tint the petals.

GOS Today

As membership grew from fifteen to more than one hundred during the 80s and 90s, the meetings were moved to the Doyle Conner Building on SW 34th St. In 2003 the group began meeting at Kanapaha Botanical Gardens on Archer Road. An affiliate of the American Orchid Society, the Gainesville Orchid Society’s current membership includes four AOS Judges: Dr. Tom Sheehan, Dr. Jacquelyn Miller, Col. Ken Kone and Chuck Nemeth. Today's members share a wide range of orchid expertise, from hobbyists to commercial growers.