In summer 2020, the Balboa Park Conservancy’s volunteer programs received a major boost when the City of San Diego’s corps of 80 volunteers who tend the Inez Grant Parker Memorial Rose Garden were incorporated into its growing volunteer ranks. Among this group of dedicated, longtime volunteers is Sue Streeper, one of the original Rose Garden volunteers, whose husband Dick Streeper helped found the garden decades ago. Sue took some time from her busy volunteering schedule to tell us about herself and the garden she’s helped make flourish since its inception.
Tell us a little bit about your background.
I grew up in Seattle and attended Willamette University in Salem, Oregon, where I met my future husband, Dick Streeper. I received my M.A. at the University of Oregon while Dick was getting his law degree at Willamette. We moved to San Diego in 1962 and bought the house where I continue to live. The property is large and accommodates the 200 roses that Dick and I planted over time. I taught Spanish at West Hills High School for many years and retired in 2002. At present, I thoroughly enjoy volunteering at the park’s Rose Garden on Tuesdays and delivering Meals on Wheels on Fridays. I anxiously await the time when I can return to volunteering at the El Cajon Library and ushering for plays and concerts.
How did you get involved with volunteering at the Rose Garden?
Dick was president of the San Diego Rose Society in 1969 and often repeated the question: If San Diego is one of the best places in the country to grow roses, why don’t we have a decent public rose garden? He initiated a resolution to found such a garden and sent it to the San Diego City Council, who approved the idea. When the Parker Foundation money became available, the city council moved ahead with the project. The garden was completed and dedicated in 1975. It was obvious to Dick that the city staff assigned to the garden (one person) was not sufficient to maintain it adequately, so he also created the Rose Garden Corps around 1980. Of course I was one of the supporters from that time on.
Describe a typical volunteer shift working in the Rose Garden.
I pick up a wheelbarrow and tools and go to my assigned area, which is four beds near the central maintenance area. First, I deadhead the failing blooms, then rake up fallen petals and leaves, and lastly pull any weeds. Then I return the wheelbarrow to the maintenance area.
What advice would you give a new Rose Garden volunteer?
Enjoy your work and know that you are making a difference in this beautiful place.
Do you have a favorite section of the Rose Garden or favorite varieties of roses?
I enjoy all of it, with its different kinds of roses distributed around the property. My favorites are the floribundas, which feature large clusters of roses, making a colorful display. Favorite floribundas include Sun Flare, Trumpeter, Frida Kahlo, and Sparkle and Shine.
Can you tell us something about the Rose Garden that would surprise most people?
Many of the volunteers have been donating their time and effort for more than 15 years. Also, the original garden was somewhat smaller than the current one. In the 1980s and 90s, when skyscrapers were being built downtown, they dumped a lot of dirt on the east side of the garden, which expanded its area. At that time, the gazebo, which had been a half circle, became a full one and many beds were added along the canyon.
Is there anything else about the Rose Garden you would like to share?
So many visitors walking through the garden express how grateful they are to the labor of the volunteers. They always comment on how beautiful it is and how much they enjoy walking there. Also, I am grateful that this garden has curved, paved walks, which invite baby strollers, wheelchairs, and family groups to move around. Most rose gardens do not have this kind of accessibility.