Irene Schwarz


Irene closeup
Irene Schwarz

Irene and her husband Al were long-time members of NJOS. Irene was always at the forefront of any society activity or event. She took pleasure and pride in coordinating the dessert table at the holiday party, all the meals served at the annual picnic & auction, and the judges’ luncheon for our shows. She was an active member of NJOS and made it her mission to ensure the events and activities were successful by finding volunteers when needed and frequently checking to make sure things were running smoothly. She served as the unofficial guardian of the society and helped steer the society forward by knowing every single member and finding people to serve on the Board or volunteer for one of the officer’s position. She had a knack for finding the perfect candidate. We honor and remember Irene’s spirit and dedication by naming the outstanding service award after her.

From Past NJOS President Sharon Chaplinsky:

On September 5, 2009, the American Orchid Society and North Jersey orchid Society (NJOS) lost a long time, active and dedicated member, Irene Schwarz. Irene was a member of the NJOS for over 25 years and our AOS representative for almost 20 years . We lost a tremendous presence within our organization when Irene passed away. What made Irene special was that she truly embodied what is at the heart of any great organization—its members. She knew each of the members and had a knack for understanding their skills, talents, likes and dislikes. When volunteers were needed for a task or activity, she would get a twinkle in her eye and say “Just leave it to me”. A short time later she would return with her latest volunteer. To quote a friend “It was Irene asking so I couldn’t say no”. She had a smile for everyone.

When a job needed doing it, was often Irene who would just jump right in. She never made these jobs seem hard or complained, but rather accomplished them just like everything else she did, which was with grace and dignity. When I became president of NJOS Irene took me firmly in-hand and made sure I always knew what needed to be done. It was during this time that I truly came to appreciate how much Irene did for the organization. She was a fabulous cook and no board meeting was held without some of her home made goodies showing up.

Irene loved all orchids but she grew mostly Paphiopedilum due to the shady location of her home. One of her favorite was Paph. spicerianum that was acquired from an old collection. This particular plant grows very fast, flowers on very small plants, and has nice flowers. At our last show, Irene was too ill to attend, however, she made up a basket for the society exhibit, which included several of her beloved Paph. spicerianum. She was tickled when she found out that she had won one of the trophies. When Irene could no longer care for her plants she passed the collection on to NJOS to be auctioned to the club members. It seemed that this one Paph. spicerianum had been divided many times. When I tried re-potting some of them for the auction even more divisions fell off! NJOS decided to have this plant named Paph. spicerianum “Memoria Irene Schwarz”. This plant reminds me of Irene, as it may be small and charming but still tough.

As her illness progressed, Irene was moved to hospice care and even then she continued her mission of helping people to become better orchid growers. While visiting Irene, one of our members noted that she was handing out orchid care sheets from her bed. Irene may have looked fragile  but this lady had a core of pure steel.

Irene was survived by her husband Al Schwarz who also was an active member of NJOS even though orchids were not his hobby. Al built us a beautiful wooden sound box for our speaker system. You can tell he’s an engineer because everything had a place and there were instructions on each item. Al was always our DJ for the annual holiday party and the last song of the night was always “Good Night Irene”. He has requested that NJOS continue the tradition. So we will and I will most likely cry, but I suspect I will not be the only one. So let me finish with Good Night Irene. Know that you are greatly missed by all of the people whose lives you touched.

From John Sullivan, first recipient of Irene Schwarz Memorial Award for Outstanding Service in 2013:

When the idea came before the group-at-large, I thought it was a really solid and fitting way to remember someone who gave all that Irene did of herself to NJOS. When she joined in the mid- nineteen eighties, many of us realized quickly that she was a go-to person, one who could be counted on to get things done. Whether the job was coordinating judging luncheons at the show, desserts for the holiday party, or helping out at one of our many picnic/auctions held each summer, or coming up with ideas for us to implement as fund-raisers or membership promotion, Irene was in the forefront. She also served for many years as our AOS representative, and encouraged people to join the AOS. Let’s not forget also the contributions made by her husband Al, who made sure we had a working microphone at meetings, and who also provided music for us at the annual holiday party.

On a personal note, Irene encouraged me more than once to enter the judging program, which leads me to another observation. When I joined NJOS in the late nineteen seventies, I was a beginner and one of the younger members. NJOS nurtured me in my quest to learn about these wonderful plants. One concrete example: I used to bring in mostly miniature plants, which would get lost among the predominance at the time of huge cattleyas, sprays of Oncidiums, etc. NJOS has always been a democratic group in the sense that voting for the plants by members has been an NJOS tradition, I believe, back to our formation around 1960. Margaret DeLage, president at the time thought that those of us who brought in miniatures were being short-changed because there was no miniature category, nor none for under-lights grown plants either. She had these categories created, and the change made all the difference in the world for those of us who grow these tiny charmers. Back to Irene, who did much of the same to encourage people to grow and display their orchids.

I never thought that the board would deem me the first recipient of this new award, and am still reeling, remembering as my wife Jane nudged me saying “That’s you hon. Go up there and get it!” I am very gratified. I have a strong attachment to this group, and am pleased that, while so many have passed, or are no longer leaders, there have been many to take up the banner of mentoring and directing the group. Many other orchid societies are struggling to stay afloat, but we manage well, thanks to enthusiasm, energy, and well-balanced programs-all aspects of solid leadership.