Several members of the Washington in Bloom committee made their way to the 18th annual America in Bloom National Symposium and Awards Ceremony in St. Charles, Ill., Wednesday.

“(We’re) just thrilled to be seeing the national judges who’ve been to our community,” said Sally Bocklage, WIB co-chair.

Bocklage was accompanied by Mayor Sandy Lucy, Wayne Dunker, parks director, and Josh Wargo, arborist/horticulturist. The WIB members will officially announce the results of the award ceremony Monday.

“I’m looking forward to seeing the culmination of all our planning and hard work throughout the year,” said Dunker.

Bocklage noted the group is excited to see what’s in store for them at the symposium, which was being held Thursday through Saturday, Oct. 3-5.

“The speaker sessions all look very interesting,” she said. “So many excellent topics will be covered in our educational sessions.”

Sessions include “Thumbs Up to Social Media — How to Showcase Your In Bloom Efforts,” “The Link Between Beauty and Health,” and “Planting Hope and Harvesting Dreams.”

In addition to the educational sessions, guests also will enjoy tours of the host city.

Bocklage noted members were given two “pre-tour” options Thursday. The first was to tour the Ball Horticultural Company where guests could check out the headquarters, seed processing lab and the packing operations. Bocklage said the wholesale cut flower operation was started by George Ball in 1905.

That tour option continued onto Midwest Groundcovers, which produces over 20 million plants per year on nearly 700 acres.

The other tour option the Morton Arboretum, which was established in 1922. It’s described as being an outdoor museum of trees.

This year’s national symposium is especially important for local WIB members because next year Washington will be the host city.

That’s why Dave Wehmeyer, WIB co-chair, and John Steffens, member, left for the symposium before the rest of the crew. 

“(They) left for the symposium a little early to be our eyes and ears about what the host city committee is doing in the hours before most attendees arrive,” said Bocklage.

“We are excited to be in St. Charles and see what they have to offer,” Wehmeyer said Wednesday. “John and I are already networking with people and have some awesome ideas for next year. We will need a lot of volunteers, but we know the citizens of Washington are always willing to help and that’s what makes our town awesome.”

Networking is a big part of the symposium, so communities see what others are doing successfully.

“I’m looking forward to networking with other communities and bringing them back to Washington,” said Wargo.

Prior to this symposium, members of the Washington Garden Club, P.E.O Chapter CD, Franklin County Master Gardeners and P.E.O Chapter LV blanket stitched cutouts of the state of Missouri to be used for invitations to the 2020 symposium in Washington.

In addition, 300 corn cob pipes were sewn on the cutouts. The pipes were donated by Missouri Meerschaum Company in Washington.

Bocklage said the cutouts will be placed, one at each seat, Saturday night at the closing night award banquet.

“We anticipate these homespun creations to delight guests and get people talking about coming to Washington for the AIB symposium in 2020,” she said.

Before adjourning, Bocklage said Mayor Sandy Lucy will present an official welcome with the WIB members by her side.

“I’m excited to learn how we rank with other cities in our population category and especially extending a warm welcome to everyone to come to Washington in 2020,” said Lucy.

“We will show a wonderful video about our great city and each of us will share something special about this place we call home,” she said. “From that point on, the focus will be on Washington in 2020.”

The city of Liberty joined the AIB this year, so the symposium is their first, Bocklage said. “It will be great getting to know them and helping them when we can.”

Judges Visit

Prior to the symposium, the city was visited by two AIB judges — Jack Clasen and Bruce Riggs.

The judges evaluated Washington on its heritage, environmental effort, community vitality, urban forestry, floral display, landscape display and overall impression. They toured all around town including stops at the All-Abilities Playground, Miller-Post Nature Reserve, Washington Historical Society Museum and many other sites.

Both Riggs and Clasen had visited Washington as judges previously.

Clasen noted that Washington is a model for the country and hopes to see more downtown redevelopment in the future. Riggs said he would like to see more youth involved in Washington. 

In addition to a written evaluation from the judges, the city also will receive a special mention for what the judges deem to be an extraordinary project or program.

Other awards that will be presented Saturday night include population category winner, outstanding achievement award, special awards, community champion and YouTube video. 

Washington has been an AIB participant since 2011. 

Check the Wednesday Missourian for an updated story on how Washington did at the awards ceremony.