By Mary Beth Breckenridge
Pat Raeder wasn’t about to let age and health challenges keep her from gardening.
Although she and her husband, George, recently moved and gave up the renowned garden they had created over three decades, she was determined to keep her hands in the soil. They had a greenhouse built at their new home in Bath Township, where she could turn her attention to indoor gardening.
Sadly, she never got the chance. The greenhouse was finished just a week and a half before her death Wednesday night of multiple myeloma.
She was 76.
Mrs. Raeder was diagnosed in May but had been feeling run-down since the beginning of the year, a symptom that was initially attributed to stress from the move, her friend and former neighbor Mary June Starts said.
The Raeders were well-known in gardening circles for the 5½-acre property they developed at their previous home in Cuyahoga Falls, which Starts described as “just gorgeous.” The couple had created some 40 distinct garden areas, lush with plants that included more than 500 varieties of hostas and decorated with garden sculptures made by Mrs. Raeder and wood structures created by her husband.
Mrs. Raeder was the daughter of a plant pathologist who grew a variety of fruits on a 40-acre property, “so she came from a growing background,” George Raeder said. She had done some gardening before they moved to the Cuyahoga Falls home in 1980, but it was there that her interest flourished.
They started with a few perennial beds, and “it simply grew and grew and grew,” he said.
Starts said Raeder became her gardening mentor when Starts and her husband moved next door 25 years ago. “Pat took us under her wings. ‘Oh, you like gardening,’ ” she recalled her friend saying, then broke out into a laugh. “It was all downhill from there.”
Mrs. Raeder encouraged Starts to train to become a volunteer with the Summit County Master Gardeners, with which she had been affiliated since 2001.
The garden gave Mrs. Raeder a place to showcase her sculpture as well as her gardening prowess. An artist who graduated in 1957 from Western Reserve University and the Cleveland Institute of Art, she taught art in the late 1950s in the Bedford schools and developed an interest in ceramics when her husband surprised her one Christmas with a potter’s wheel and kiln. That interest led her to sculpture, and she created artwork for her own garden, for her friends’ and for sale.
Lately she had been concentrating on making planters for succulents, her latest gardening passion.
The Raeders’ garden was featured on many garden tours and was visited by groups including the American Horticulture Society and American Hosta Society. In 1998, the Raeders were named grand-prize winners of Cuyahoga Falls’ annual Beautification Award.
The property was devastated in July 2003 when a torrential rain flooded Yellow Creek, sweeping much of the garden downstream and covering some sections with up to 2 feet of sand and silt. Friends helped salvage what they could of the garden and George Raeder’s woodworking shop, but the experience demoralized the couple, Starts said.
When a smaller flood last August caused additional damage, “I think that kind of took the wind out of their sails,” she said.
Starts described her friend as quiet, even-tempered and giving.
“She was a gem,” Starts said. “She was always willing to share. She would share knowledge, plants, whatever.”
Besides her husband, Mrs. Raeder leaves three children, Jim Raeder of Caldwell, Idaho; Brian Raeder of Wooster; and Sue Anne Nelson of Cambridge, as well as two granddaughters, Holly and Ashley Nelson.
Calling hours are 2 to 5 p.m. Sunday at Ciriello & Carr Funeral Home in Fairlawn. Services will be at 11 a.m. Monday — her birthday — at the Bath Church.
Mary Beth Breckenridge can be reached at 330-996-3756 or email@example.com.