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Calla lilies need new homes

George Churchill is offering living pieces of Oak Harbor history to residents and visitors alike during this year’s Holland Happening parade on Saturday.

From about 9 a.m. to noon, Churchill invites folks to bring a bucket or some other small container and stop by his real estate office on Pioneer Way to dig up some of the “millions” of calla lily bulbs under the dirt in the side garden.

“These bulbs should find new homes,” Churchill said. “They are white flowers with yellow stamens. They are huge. Big, tall flowers.”

Someday soon, the well-known plot of flowers along the side of the real estate building will bloom there no more. Churchill, a long-time real estate agent and developer in the city, said the old building will be razed to make room for a Walgreens store at the corner of Highway 20 and Pioneer Way.

The flowers are a decorative part of the city’s story, as well as an important part of the Churchill family history.

In 1939, a minister in Bremerton gave George Churchill’s mother, Henrietta, a single calla lily as an Easter present. The family later moved to Poulsbo, where his father, Dewey, propagated the flowers in his garden.

The family moved to Oak Harbor in March of 1954. They ran Churchill’s Grocery, “a mom-and-pop store,” out of the building that later became the real estate office, Churchill explained. The family lived in a home behind the grocery store.

The family brought with them a 16-foot boat carrying unusual treasures on the floorboards — dozens of bulbs from that original calla lily. It was young George’s chore to plant the bulbs on the side of the family’s store.

Nearly 70 years after Henrietta received the first flower, countless descendants of the single, beloved plant are famous harbingers of summer at the busy corner in Oak Harbor. The three- to four-foot tall flowers are eye catching, with exotic-looking, fluted blooms.

“The lights would come on at night,” Churchill said, pointing to the fixtures above the callas, “and the white flowers would just stand out.”

Churchill said the hardy plants grow like weeds, multiplying through rhizome off-sets in the earth. His own gardens are filled with calla lilies he dug up from the business.

“I carried on the family tradition,” he said. “I’ve planted them wherever I lived. They are just all over the place.”

Churchill said he’s not sad about the imminent end to the building and the strip of flower bed.

“It’s just another chapter of life,” he said. “You turn the page and go onto the next chapter.”

Churchill has sold the real estate portion of his business, which will became a John L. Scott office at the north end of town. He will continue to run the property management and building portions of his business out of the office on Highway 20.

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