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'Gardens and Glazes' to raise funds for ATLAS

Spencer and Geri Howard of rural Ocheyedan, Iowa, stand with ATLAS (Attaining Truth Love and Self-control) of Osceola Director Clark Haken (center) in the Fish & Loaves pottery studio.2 / 2

MELVIN, Iowa -- Last year's Garden Party brought a crowd of more than 400 people to Leon Hulstein's farm in rural Melvin.

This year, the event will blossom into a two-day Gardens and Glazes celebration from 2 to 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday (July 23-24) featuring both Hulstein's lush, exotic gardens and the pottery-making skill and talent of Spencer and Geri Howard of rural Ocheyedan, Iowa.

The event is a fundraiser for ATLAS (Attaining Truth, Love And Self-Control) of Osceola County, a non-profit organization that helps people in need of mentoring, support, resources or professional counseling find what they need.

The Howards have opened up their Fish & Loaves Pottery studio at 6458 180th St. near Ocheyedan to visitors, and will demonstrate throwing and glazing hand-made pottery for Gardens and Glazes.

"When I took a pottery course in college, I knew where I belonged," said Spencer, then studying wildlife and fishery management. He chose the pottery class only to fulfill an art requirement. "And I switched majors."

Spencer's first experience with clay occurred when he was about 10 years old and hit clay when digging a hole in the backyard with his cousin. The kids sat and made pottery with the clay, when they didn't even really know what clay was.

"Mother kept a pot I made for all her life, and it was raw and wasn't fired," Spencer recalled.

After switching his major to art in college, he decided to become a teacher, and started teaching in Wisconsin before he had even finished his degree. Though Spencer spent most of his career teaching high school and junior high school students, he also sometimes had responsibility for kindergarten and grade school art curriculum.

During the summers, he made pottery -- mugs, bowls, plates, vases, butter dishes, goblets, teapots, tureens, serving dishes and anything else he could imagine. He colors them with glazes he mixes himself, mainly in natural, organic-looking hues.

"Spence has a natural eye when he's creating," said Clark Haken, director of ATLAS. "He understands the way colors work together, even though it's kind of a mystery... you never really know what's going to come out of the kiln."

Soon after he retired from teaching, Spencer developed an electrical problem in his heart, which sometimes caused fluid to back up in his lungs. Greatly weakened, he found himself unable to work at the pottery wheel -- or anything else. He was told he would never lift more than 20 pounds again.

Greatly depressed and in need of help, he and Geri turned to ATLAS for encouragement and strength. And since changing his medical treatment regimen, Spencer has been able to work at the pottery wheel for 10 hours a day since December.

"We give the Lord all the credit," Geri said. "It was the Lord's hand."

Spencer will show how he makes pottery during the Gardens and Glazes event, and a limited quantity of Fish & Loaves pottery -- named for the Biblical tale in which Jesus feeds the multitudes -- will be for sale. Visitors may also place orders to be picked up later.

"For me, the exciting part about having the fundraiser here is that this is going to be awesome exposure for Spencer and Geri and Fish & Loaves Pottery," Haken said. "It's an undiscovered treasure."

The Garden Party

The three greenhouses, lily pond, waterfall and flower-filled grounds of Hulstein's farm will form the other half of the Gardens and Glazes event.

"It's just addictive. It's relaxing; it's a hobby for me," Hulstein said, expanding on his love of gardening.

Hulstein's farm contains everything from geraniums and begonias to banana trees and exotic plants. This year, he had good luck with a new variety of allysum called Snow Princess, which forms a big ball of white, fragrant flowers.

Hulstein's 20 banana trees are about six feet tall now, but they'll be up to 12 or 15 feet in a month.

"I have a room on the end of the big greenhouse I keep just above freezing," Hulstein explained. "The tropicals that will go dormant, I move in there for the winter."

Most of his plants come as inch-high plugs with a tiny root system, ready to be moved to a larger pot.

The vastness of his green empire means Hulstein spends hours every day watering, deadheading and weeding, helped greatly by the drip irrigation system he installed in the past year. Now, 550 to 600 pots can be watered almost instantly, rather than requiring individual watering.

Hulstein is opening his gardens to the public in order to benefit ATLAS.

"It's a nice, relaxing time," he said. "I think between the yard here and Spencer and Geri Howard's, it would be a very enjoyable day."


Spencer and Geri Howard's home is at 6458 180th St., Ocheyedan. From Worthington, travel south on U.S. 59 for about two miles. Turn left (east) on 170th Street (CR-A22) and go approximately 6 miles. Turn right (south) on Tyler Avenue (CR-L58) and go about half a mile. The Howard farm is on the north side of the road.

Hulstein's farm is at 5558 240th St., Melvin. From Worthington, travel U.S. 59 south of Allendorf to 240th Street, turn right and travel approximately 2.5 miles. Hulstein's farm is on the north side of the road.