Betty Bonawitz has never been a quitter. She has been married 60 years, been a 4-H leader for 42 years and recently celebrated 50 years of membership in the Rapid City Garden Club.
Bonawitz, 77, grew up in the countryside a few miles outside New Underwood. The family's home was surrounded by wildflowers. She has fond memories of her mother and aunt tending rich and colorful gardens.
“I saw my mother growing flowers out on the farm all the time. She had the old-fashioned morning glories, zinnias and marigolds. My aunt had hollyhocks all over her yard. I would get on my bicycle and pedal to her house and see all of her flowers,” she said.
Early on, Bonawitz took an interest in flower arranging.
“I picked wildflowers and took them to school. I would arrange them how a child would arrange flowers. I had a lot of fun with that. I just loved it. The teachers thought I was quite the artist. They really liked me bringing the flowers,” she said.
Flower arrangements also provided an outlet for her artistic interests.
“I never got to go to college for my art, but the artist in me loved the flowers,” Bonawitz said.
In Rapid City, her first garden bloomed beautifully and impressed her neighbors and family.
“That was the first time I had ever planted seeds in the flowerbed by my house," Bonawitz said. "And all these beautiful dahlias grew, and I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, I have never done this sort of thing before,’ and my mother was just amazed.”
Bonawitz was introduced to the Rapid City Garden Club by a neighbor, Katherine Brehm, who later talked her into entering a flower-arranging contest at the fair where she was a blue-ribbon winner.
After joining the Garden Club, she started making wreaths to sell and raise funds for their community garden projects. Back in the early days of the club, wreath making was a one-day event. Now, it takes a month to design and create them.
Flower arranging became more than just a hobby for Bonawitz — it became her career. She worked at Sunshine Gardens until it washed away in the 1972 flood.
In 1975, she and her sister opened a business selling rock crafts at Mount Rushmore.
“The tourists loved them,” Bonawitz said. “So my gosh, that's all we got done in the first year — making those little rocks.”
In 1976, they expanded into the wedding industry and called their store Forever Yours Bridal. Brides could buy mail-order kits to make their own silk flowers. They made gowns and cake top arrangements. It was a one-stop wedding shop.
When her sister retired, she took the flower shop part and moved downtown. Her store was called Betty’s Flowers, Candy Too.
Eventually, Bonawitz sold the store. It was renamed “Forget-Me-Not Floral” and moved to a different location. She still helps out at the store.
Part of her work at the Garden Club is planning and planting public gardens. The club planted a wildflower garden by the train tracks on Omaha Street. Right before the flowers were about to bloom, however, several semi trucks ran over them.
They were not ready to give up, so the garden was moved to a larger spot a safe distance from roads. Unfortunately, that spot had moles, so keeping the flowers nice took more work.
Bonawitz said it was pretty for several years, but it was torn up during road construction and the group made plans to replant, and then a train car tipped over on it.
After all these setbacks, the decision was made to move it to the senior center on Canyon Lake Drive, where Bonawitz designed the rose garden.
She has been active in all capacities of the club, including serving as president for several years.
In the 50 years she has been gardening, Bonawitz has faced her fair share of obstacles.
Eleven years ago, she lost sight in one eye and partially in the other. Two years later, she had triple bypass surgery. Despite her health problems, however, she has endured.
“But I wouldn’t give up gardening for that. I would probably crawl around and search for weeds on my knees if it came to that,” Bonawitz joked.
Not much has changed in the Garden Club over the years, except for decreasing membership. Bonawitz, however, has no intention of quitting. She and the remaining members spend their time tending the community gardens to help make Rapid City a little more beautiful.
She also plants a lot of shade garden flowers at home because of the shade the tree in her yard provides.
“Our tree fell over so we planted another one recently. My husband told me, 'We are never going to get to see that tree grow up.' I said, 'Thats OK, somebody else will enjoy it someday,'” Bonawitz said.