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Ruth Thorness (1912–2007)
As former Golden Valley Garden Club President, was instrumental in planting of Lilac Way
Resident of Golden Valley, MN for 75 years
In an interview in TPT’s Highway 100: Lilac Way documentary, Ruth said
“The Golden Valley Garden Club decided we’d like to take on a project. And that was about the time that they were talking about the highway. And these women thought that being that the Golden Valley official flower was the lilac, maybe we could make some arrangement with the Highway Department to earn money to buy the lilacs to be planted alongside the highway. And that what we did.
We sold lilac plants for 15 cents apiece, and then later on we sold peony roots for 15 cents apiece. We sold, and sold, and sold, and earned money to buy those lilacs that were planted between Glenwood Avenue and Golden Valley Road.
The landscaping department of the Highway Department took care of arranging where they would be put, and planting them. But we paid the money for the lilacs.”
“The Garden Club decided to have a Lilac Time Parade, and we invited the schools and all different organizations in Golden Valley, anybody who was interested to be in the parade. They blocked off Highway 100 from Glenwood Avenue to Golden Valley Road, no traffic at all.
And the kids came with their bicycles all decorated up, and the Garden Club had wheelbarrows full of lilacs. Several people carried lilacs, it was really quite an affair. We had 1,200 people for the first parade.
And we really had a good time.”
“Golden Valley had a reputation for the lilac drive, and I think it was kind of sad we had to lose it. Same thing with our Lilac Time Parade, I felt bad when that was over with too. I guess I’d like to hang on to some of the old things real well. I just think about the pleasure that people got from it, they enjoyed it.
Some of the old things weren’t so bad, too. You kind of lose sight of that, I guess. It was sad really, and I think a lot of people feel the way I do about it. But you know, we have to do something about the traffic.” (smiling)
Ruth Thorness passed away in 2007 but her Lilac Way efforts live on.
“The WPA workers had made all these nice stone tables and benches, and they were quite permanent! Nobody could pick them up and carry them away. People used them for many, many, many years. They really enjoyed them, very, very much.
Golden Valley was very proud of the Lilac Lane, they really felt that that was something that made Golden Valley a little unique.”
Resident Melissa Curtis said her grandmother, Ottiliea Curtis (1897-1985) was one of the founding members of the Golden Valley Garden Club. She is mentioned on a History of Golden Valley video.
2,847 Persian lilacs and 5,408 common lilacs, were planted as part of the landscape plan.
Because of the thousands of lilacs that lined the highway, the 12.5 miles of road between Edina and Robbinsdale became known as Lilac Way.
Those bushes, and many more shrubs, were planted by the landscape department of MnDOT and workers from President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal agency, the Works Progress Administration (WPA).
The WPA provided jobs and income to the unemployed during the Great Depression. It was designed to provide work for unemployed Americans during the Depression. These workers planted almost 30,000 deciduous plants, including the lilacs, along Highway 100.