24th February2020

There are very few people who leave a truly vital and enduring mark in the field of conservation and research when it comes to apples and other fruits. Two such persons were Nick Botner and Lee Calhoun, both leaving us in recent days. Nick was 93, Lee was 84, and both led rich lives, bequesting the world a priceless legacy of fruits and knowledge for the future as well as the present. Clearly, they will be much missed by friends and family, who will post their reflections, but we wished to add just a short appreciation of them from our perspective.

 
 
 
 
 
 

 

 

Nick Botner

1926-2020

Creighton Lee Calhoun Jnr.

1935-2020

 


Nick, and his wife of 55 years, Carla, moved to their farm at Yoncalla, Oregon, in 1975. 93-year old Nick was collecting fruit varieties right up to the end. He was born into an immigrant Ukrainian family in 1926, at Spring Valley, New York. By 1944, at 18, he was in the U.S Army and sent to Europe, staying over, briefly, in Scotland, telling us of some merry times there! He then went to fight in the 'Battle of the Bulge', the last major offensive by the Nazis, in the Ardennes. He was awarded the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart. On leaving the army he moved to Cocoa Beach, Florida, training for and receiving his pilot's licence, a qualification that he would use for flying light aircraft and notably when he moved in 1948 to Alaska to take on a 25 acre homestead at Gold Creek, while working for the Alaska Railroad. He married Carla at Anchorage, Alaska, in 1965, and they built and operated a Fly-In hunting and fishing lodge near Talkeetna. On moving to their farm at Yoncalla, Nick developed his passion for fruit trees in a major way, starting to collect as many varieties as he could find, from the start of the 1980s. The collection was to become probably the largest private collection in the world, with over 10,000 varieties. He sold scions and willingly exchanged them, widely to the public and through his eminence in the Home Orchard Society.

We first learnt of Nick in the late 1990s and were quickly in touch. He was not one for computers and email, so we exchanged letters and telephone calls - and of course exchanged scions, every year up to 2018. For some the patina of age leads to grand characters, and he was surely one, always interesting and always devoted to doing more. It was a privilege to know him and to be close to his circle. It is no exaggeration to say that, had it not been for him, collecting so many rare varieties and keeping them going for the duration of his 4 decades of curatorship, we would have lost so many really important historic fruits. He kept open the window of opportunity, so that others could take up the torch and run with it to next generations. We are so very grateful for his all his work and for having had the opportunity to take possession of some unique varieties kept alive by him, as well as for the pleasure of knowing him. Nick- Well Done Indeed! We will miss you, but your legacy will stand for all time.

 

We never met or corresponded with Lee Calhoun, but it does not take much to recognize a kindred spirit and fellow traveller, whose path almost exactly matched our own, displaced only by geography. We know him very well, because we know his path and the passion that set him upon it. We must also acknowledge, as he did in the preface to his great work 'Old Southern Apples' that his achievements in finding 'missing' apples and the oustanding academic research that followed were entirely shared with his wife, Edith, who played an equal part and who deserves the same respect from us and the same gratitude from the people of today and posterity.

It was sad to hear of his death at the age of 84, as we always hoped to make contact one day. He leaves a body of work, the detail and quality of which stands above anything else on the subject and which has inspired many others to continue the vital work. The main part of his life was in the US Army, where he achieved the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. On retirement, he and his wife, Edith, settled at Pittsboro, North Carolina, where they started to plant apple trees, soon to become a passion for seeking out old southern varieties and rediscovering the rarest. This led to the forming of the Calhoun Nursery to grow and disseminate endangered apples. This was in the early 1980s. For the Calhouns, this was insufficient and they embarked upon much travel and hard work, researching long forgotten archives for all they could discover about the old apples of the South. The result was 'Old Southern Apples', published in 1995 - a monumental work that later went to a revised second edition. The detail covered and the evident precision of the reporting are an example to all. There is no false or dogmatic assumption. It is a rich tapestry, unfinished, which abounds in threads for others to follow. It is also much more than a work on purely southern apples. Such has been the interchange between the USA and Europe, it has much to say on apples that have a long history in Britain. It has been a valuable reference work on our bookshelf and regularly consulted, as its wisdom flows into our own researches. It stands apart from all earlier works on the subject and is a milestone for others to augment, but not surpass. Thank you, Lee and Edith, from those who did not meet you but who know you well.