Anna Opel had a prolific presence in the garden world and in Muscatine for over 40 years, from the mid 1930’s until her death in 1978. Anna is listed or mentioned in over 200 entries in the Muscatine Journal for sharing her plant knowledge expertise with various church and community groups, as well as her beloved Garden Club.
Charles Rickey, plant and tree expert, recalls Anna’s radio show about garden plants on KWPC. When asked if he knew Anna, he stated, “she was the garden club.” Anna’s weekly radio program the ”Garden Club of the Airwaves” aired for over 20 years.
Anna’s love of plants was captured in the scrapbooks she created to memorialize the local wildflowers and plants she researched, searched out, and collected. When speaking to groups or on her radio program, she educated by discussing how to grow and harvest plants, and also taught the origin and botanical names of plants, shrubs, trees, and grasses.
Opel was the President of the Garden Club from 1938-1939 and again from 1951-1952; additionally she founded and was the first President of the Muscatine Herb Pals.
Anna’s work and interests did not stop at Muscatine but carried on throughout the state of Iowa, as she served for 24 years as the Iowa State Wild Flower Chair for the Iowa Federation of Garden Clubs. In 1963, she received a Meritorious Radio Award from the National Council of State Garden Clubs for her radio broadcasting programs.
Previous to her presence in the gardening realm, she and her husband Charles owned several southend restaurants that provided many luncheon meals to Roach and Musser Lumber Company workers. Anna alone opened Anna’s Café, which was located on South Grandview Avenue.
Anna’s appointment to the City of Muscatine’s Cemetery Commission led to 20 years of dedicated service and a lifelong honorary membership in the committee. Additionally, Mayor Kelly Burns named a section of Greenwood Cemetery in her honor.
Anna was the first woman to serve on the Mississippi River Parkway Commission Great River Road Board. She believed that the Great River Road Project, “must not be just miles and miles of concrete.” In 1961, Anna was recognized in Who’s Who in American Women” for her self-taught knowledge of regional plants and herbs.
In 1970, local Garden Club members honored her prestigious and prolific life’s work by purchasing an acre of land at the Iowa Arboretum in Madrid, Iowa.
Anna continued until her death in 1978 to share her knowledge and artistic talents by creating flower pictures on satin pressed behind glass as framed pictures and given as birthday, mother’s day, or confirmation gifts. Anna loved to share her beautiful live wildflower bouquets at various local church Sunday morning services. Additionally, she collected nuts and made decorative trees from them. So if you are fortune enough to find one at a tag sale, turn the picture over and see if you have found a Muscatine artifact created by Anna!
(Article sources included many Muscatine Journal articles, “Hanft’s Remarkable Women,” and from persons who knew her, including Charles Rickey and her granddaughter Joleen Schnedler.)