CLINTON, Iowa — Frances Bickelhaupt, co-founder of the 14-acre arboretum here that bears her name, died over the weekend. She was 97.
She and her husband Robert, a longtime Clinton businessman who died in 2006, opened the arboretum in 1970.
The living museum of plants was established on land next to their home and was intended as a gift to the community. It is open with free admission from dawn to dusk for the public's enjoyment and education. In addition to the collections of plants, “the arb” hosts many programs and classes.
Bickelhaupt was active and engaged until her death Saturday at her home on the arboretum property, her daughter, Francie Hill, of Clinton, said Monday.
Mrs. Bickelhaupt would buzz about the property in a electric-powered cart and recently had been talking to Hill and her husband, Allan Rathje, about the textures of the trees, her daughter said.
The Bickelhaupts founded the "arb" after Robert retired from his auto dealership. The arboretum is self-supporting, with no government funding.
It attracts more than 20,000 visitors annually and contains more than 2,000 labeled plantings, including one of the 10 best conifer collections in the country.
In 2012, the arboretum was chosen a "conifer reference garden" by the American Conifer Society.
The Bickelhaupts had no formal education in horticulture or botany, but they taught themselves by traveling the world, touring gardens, attending seminars and lectures, and taking courses.
In 2000, Frances published a book titled "A Private Couple Creates a Public Garden," describing how they went about establishing the arboretum, including the planning, record-keeping, financial management and equipment maintenance.
Ed Hasselkus, emeritus professor of horticulture at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a member of the Bickelhaupt board of directors, said at the time of Robert’s passing that the couple “gave up most of their social life to devote to the arboretum — their time, energy and resources for the betterment of the community. Both worked very unselfishly."
Frances and Robert Bickelhaupt had been married for 68 years at the time of Robert's death.
A celebration of life for both Bickelhaupts will be at 4 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 8 at the First Presbyterian Church in Clinton.
A full obituary will be published in Sunday editions of the Quad-City Times.