Wilmington Rotary Club chartered on April 15, 1915 with the initiative to provide humanitarian services to the community. A visionary member, Dr. Heber W. Johnson, in 1961 proposed that the rotary support the construction of Greenfield Lake Amphitheater as a way for the club to make improvements to Greenfield Park. In adopting the project, the rotary donated $6,000 toward it; as well, in 1965 Johnson and architect William J. Boney designed a rotary wheel as a symbol of civilization and movement, along with a garden around the amphitheater. Recognized as the largest rotary wheel in the world, it measures 240 feet in diameter, represents 24 cogs and six spokes, and in its initial completion, contained 1,500 azaleas and 500 tulips around its outer edge.
Since, the garden has been renovated by club members for the rotary’s 75th anniversary (1990), which also led to the construction of a large gazebo at the hub of the wheel. The rotary’s ongoing updates and upkeep exists today off 3rd Street in Greenfield Lake, adjacent from the amphitheater. More so, the Johnson name continues to live on. Rotarians take inspiration from his works; they even renamed the Rotary Wheel Garden to the Dr. Heber W. Johnson Rotary Garden in 2012. Also, recently, they launched the Greenfield Lake Collaborative (GLC), a grassroots nonprofit organization that focuses on beautification of the lake and gardens. GLC was forged by the Rotary Clubs of Wilmington Rotary Wheel Beautification Task Force—a combined effort by the Cape Fear Garden Club Inc., and the City of Wilmington Park Department, all of which is made up of volunteer rotary club members.
“This all seeds back through the history of rotary in Wilmington, and how all the six clubs were formed,” says Lori Harris, executive director of the Beautification Task Force and a founder of the Garden Party event. “But that garden in itself … [Johnson] was seen as the champion, so to say, of establishing that effort—kind of the grandfather of it all.”
Wilmington houses six historical rotary clubs today: Downtown Rotary, Cape Fear Rotary, Rotary Central, Rotary East, Rotary South, and Rotary West. In the past, the GLC members have taken part in projects such as removing graffiti from and adding new irrigation systems throughout Greenfield Park, holding the Daffodil 5K Run, planting 5,000 daffodils around the outer edge of the rotary wheel, hosting the City of Wilmington Christmas-tree lighting event since 2012, and yearly seeding around the wheel and garden.
Currently at the top of the organization’s list is a beautification project that focuses on establishing more gardens throughout Greenfield Park. They also want to expand the garden at Greenfield Lake. Plans for improvement are centered on constructing bollards around the perimeters to protect the landscape; adding handrails to the stairs and ramps; and extending electrical power so that it reaches the gazebo. In addition, they’re hoping to establish pedestrian art thanks to a collaborative effort with The Arts Council of New Hanover County and Wilmington, in order to place four outside sculptures throughout Greenfield Lake and the rotary garden. The organization wants to work with youth and local artists as a part of the garden’s updates. They’re awaiting the City of Wilmington’s approval.
GLC hopes that through its efforts, the park can continue to grow as a place the community can use for relaxation, entertainment and recreation. Thus, they launched their first Garden Party as the kickoff to Wilmington’s annual fall festival, Riverfest, in 2013. While they focused primarily on awareness and establishing a foundation in the first year, this year they’re hoping to gain financial footing to see their many projects through to completion. They also look forward to developing partnerships and ongoing volunteerism with their initiative.
“We’re still in that young stage of the development and organization for resource development for nonprofit,” Harris says. “We’ve been truly blessed with support and sponsors, and our biggest push at this point is to sell those tickets to help grow that fund.”
The Garden Party will be hosted in the Dr. Heber W. Johnson Rotary Garden on Friday afternoon, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Food will be provided by Parker’s Barbecue, free beverages will be served courtesy of R.A. Jeffreys, and live music from Americana band L Shape Lot (Carolina Music Award nominee and encore Best Band winner, 2009/2011) will be enjoyed. Tickets are $55 and a free shuttle from Legion Stadium will pick up passengers and drop them off at the event.
“It’s just socializing and enjoying the music and [an] afternoon in the park,” Harris says. “Net proceeds will [help] our endowment fund and focus on the community and economic development projects that GLC is working on.”
Donations can be made to GLC on their website, www.greenfieldlakecollaborative.org. For those interested in volunteering or sponsoring future projects, please, contact the organization at info@GreenfieldLakeCollaborative.org.
The Wilmington Rotary
Club Garden Party
Greenfield Lake Amphitheater,
1960 Amphitheater Drive
October 3, 11 a.m. – 3 p.m.