Club History

written by Jackie Rindal (2001)

The History of Midori Bonsai Club 1960 Through 2001

The information following tells the tale of Midori Bonsai Club, how it began and a bit of the history of some of its contributing members.

Montebello Nursery was a retail nursery located in Los Altos,California that was treasured by plant people for its rare and unusual plant species. The owner, Pete Sugiwara, was knowledgeable about plants. Barrie Coate, who was interested in learning more about plants worked on the weekends for Pete. He became interested in Pete’s bonsai collection and as a result was invited to attend Kusamura, which at that time was a club of older Japanese men that would get together to talk about old times and their families while pruning and repotting bonsai, many of which were incredible trees. Barrie asked Pete if he could bring a friend, Bob DiVita, with him to Kusamura. Bob and he began attending together. After a time, they felt that they were imposing on the Japanese men’s get together and in 1960, they decided to create their own club for beginners to learn about bonsai.

Bob and Barrie posted a bulletin at a local nursery that stated, “Anyone interested in forming a bonsai club phone …” and began to invite other people. The group met twice monthly in Bob DiVita’s garage in San Jose,California. They met in a relaxed and informal workshop atmosphere without elected officers until December of 1961, when the club developed a constitution and by-laws. Bob DiVita and Barrie Coate were the two most instrumental forces in this group during that period and are responsible for building the club and its format. They consulted a Kusamura member, Yuji Yoshimura, author of the book, The Japanese Art of Miniature Trees and Landscape, about a name for their new club and he suggested Midori, which was defined as the young growth in spring, the new color of green.

Yuji Yoshimura’s bonsai book was an instrumental tool in teaching bonsai techniques and used frequently by this group. Another member of Kusamura was Toshio Saburomaru. Toshio acted as an advisor and a sponsor to the Midori club and attended at times as a teacher. Sometimes Midori met at Tosh’s Nursery in Palo Alto for instruction. Tom and Seiji Yanari provided additional workshops to Midori members.

In addition to Bob DiVita and Barrie Coate, some of the earliest members meeting in the garage were Robert Crenshaw, Charles and Doris Haas, Bob and Carol Hillbun, Fred and Ruth May, Dr. Walt McCall, Robert Miller, Edward Pyzak, Bob Ransohoff, James Ransohoff, and Sisters Kay Weid and Addie Loer. When the group became too large to fit into Bob DiVita’s garage, Kay Weid and Addie Loer, found a location at Maywood Park, Santa Clara,California where Midori took up their new home.

New people joined and the club began to change. Some members of the old nucleus group left. By 1963 the club consisted of twenty-five members and the annual dues were $6.00 for an individual and $9.00 for a couple. A new core group of people emerged to further develop Midori into the club that it is today. Les and Dorothy Steele, George and Jo Fisher, Ann and Howard Prejean, Bud and Elizabeth Carmichael, Kay Weid, Barry Coate, Horace and Connie Hinds, and Pat Gee. All of these people held multiple board positions or served in some capacity during the past forty-years of Midori’s history. Les Steele became treasurer of the club in 1980 and remained in that position until his death in 1998.

Horace and Connie Hinds provided outstanding service to all bonsai enthusiasts with their work in B.C.I. [Bonsai Clubs International].  In addition, they, along with Bud and Elizabeth Carmichael, were four Midori bonsai members that received recognition for being charter members of Golden States Bonsai Federation.  Kay Weid, Ann and Howard Prejean taught bonsai to beginners for over twenty years at the second meeting of the month. Ann and Howard Prejean, since joining Midori, have served on the board or on a committee and presently* greet members and guests at the monthly meetings. Pat Gee, the clubs photographer, designed the club logo using a drawing of her own tree.

Dr. Seiji Shiba, a past Midori and GSBF president was an active participant in the planning, building and establishment of Bonsai Collection North in Oakland, California.

Kathy Shaner, while a Midori club member, began her formal bonsai training in Japan while interning with Master Yasuo Mitsuya. After completing a full apprenticeship she is the first non-Japanese citizen to be certified by Nippon Bonsai Association of Japan. She returns to Midori on a regular basis to teach techniques that advance others talent in the bonsai community.

The people currently* the most responsible for moving Midori toward the future are John Thompson, Doug Philips, Larry White, Bob Bugay, Ron Jussen, Gerry Fields, Alex Schneider, Albert Dick, Jesse Donaldson, Robert Gordon, Jennifer Beck and David Butt. In 1991, John Thompson and Doug Philips received awards from Golden State Bonsai Federation to advance their knowledge in the art of bonsai.

Midori’s newsletter, edited by Joel Miller*, received a first place award in 1998 from the Golden State Bonsai Federation.

Midori Bonsai Club is a non-sensei club. The closest they came to having a sensei was when they hired Johnny Uchida to provide instruction three times a year from 1981 through 1985. Midori, in the past and currently, often invites talented lecturers and demonstrators to further develop our knowledge and understanding of bonsai techniques and procedures. The club sponsors workshops conducted by Bonsai Masters as well as beginner and intermediate classes and study groups led by club teachers. Midori is also active in collecting trees from nature. The club maintains an excellent library of books and reference publications as well as current magazines that are of interest in the bonsai community.

It is Midori’s goal to its members, regardless of whether a novice or an experienced bonsai enthusiast, to expand the member’s appreciation, skill and overall knowledge in bonsai and to impart to them the importance of seeking bonsai excellence in their trees.

Biographies of Midori Club Members:

Barrie Coate, a consulting Arborist, Horticultural Consultant, was born December 17, 1933 in Juneau,Alaska. He moved to California in 1939. Barrie’s first encounter with bonsai was around 1952 when his mother suggested that he plant a small pine in a Japanese pot she had given to him. The pot had no hole and the pine died. His first real bonsai, Juniperus chinensis “San Jose” he made while working at Rogei-Reynolds Nursery in 1956 and he still has this tree today. Barrie felt fortunate to be introduced to bonsai by Pete Sugiwara, then owner of Montebello Nursery and a member of Kusamura Bonsai club. He credits Pete Sugiwara and Toshio Saburomaru with his training in the art of bonsai. He also acknowledges the venerable Japanese men of Kusamura bonsai club who were very patient with “This ignorant hakujin.” He feels lucky to have been a part of a three-person study group with Toshio Saburomaru. He cites it as “A priceless time!”  As a result of a freeze in December of 1990, many of Barrie’s bonsai pots froze, stressing his tree’s root systems and he lost seven of his oldest bonsai. Barrie Coate, along with Bob DiVita, founded and formed Midori Bonsai club in 1960.

Bob DiVita was born April 20, 1924 in Santa Cruz, California and passed away March 2000. He received his first great small bonsai as a gift from a friend returning from Japan after the war. The next encounter with bonsai was at the Yamanaka Bonsai Nursery in Cupertino,California. Later he was invited by his friend, Barrie Coate to attend Kusamura to learn bonsai techniques. Toshio Saburomaru and the book, Japanese Art of Miniature Trees and Landscape, written by Yugi Yoshimura were his main sources of introduction into the world of bonsai. Bob’s occupation in construction provided him with many skills that were of benefit to the Midori bonsai community. He built items for the club and their shows. It was noted that he was capable at what ever he put his mind to. Bob DiVita and Barrie Coate were the major influence that kept the club going during its first three years.

Kay Weid was born in Weaver, Minnesota on December 25, 1917. In 1960 she and her husband moved to California. Her first introduction to bonsai came when she saw an exhibit at a local bank. Barrie Coate was there and he asked her to join Midori and she did so. The first meetings she remembers where held in Bob DiVita’s garage. Most of her early instruction came from Barrie Coate and Bob Miller who she remembers as wonderful teachers. Outside of helping to teach beginners at the second meeting of the month for over twenty years, she held various board and committee positions. In addition she did many of the show demonstrations while Les Steele announced to the audience the steps she was taking to develop a bonsai.

Ann and Howard Prejean – Howard was born July 28, 1920 in Caren Crow, Louisiana and Ann was born October 29, 1922 in Blue Ridge,Georgia. Ann moved to San Jose, California with a girlfriend after she left her position in the Air Force and met Howard while he was stationed in Alameda. That was 1946 and they have been in California since. Their first introduction to bonsai took place while driving on a Sunday afternoon in 1969 when they saw a sign announcing a bonsai show at Mayfield Park. They stopped in to view the show.  Ann told Howard, “We can do that.”  The next year they visited the show again and became even more enthusiastic about bonsai. They bought two plants from a nursery to bonsai; one was an olive that cost 60 cents, which they still have.  They joined Midori club that year. Most of their bonsai knowledge was gained from the Sunset Bonsai book, club members and demonstrations given by Masters at Midori. These two have served on the board or in a committee every year since they joined in 1970. They assisted beginner bonsaist at the second meeting of the month for more than twenty years. They have a quiet and gentle persuasion, a passion for bonsai and have unselfishly given a great deal of their time and life to serve Midori Bonsai Club.

Les Steele was born July 25, 1922 and passed away November 1, 1998. In many ways he was the driving force in Midori bonsai club for years. His first encounter with bonsai occurred when he attended a Midori club bonsai show. He had found a listing for Midori in the back of a Sunset Book, Bonsai, Culture and Care of Miniature Trees. He joined the club in 1971. He and wife Dorothy served in a multitude of board or committee positions. 1977 he began to write the club’s newsletter and continued to do so until 1997. He enjoyed the position of treasurer and after being elected to that spot in 1980, he remained the club treasurer until his death in 1998. He organized, he directed, he recruited; he did it all. His drive and commitment to Midori bonsai club remains unmatched.

George Fisher was born May 5, 1920 in San Jose,California. Sometime around 1959 to 1960 George had back surgery and was restricted to the house during his recuperation. His children bought him a fish tank, thinking that this would give him something to occupy his time while at home. But George discovered that there was much lifting, standing and bending when cleaning a fish tank and told his children to take it back. About two weeks later they returned with a Sunset Bonsai book and some plants for him to bonsai. One cannot mention George without also mentioning Jo Fisher his wife for fifty-six years. She was born in Syracuse,Kansas, on November 5, 1923.  Jo supported George’s bonsai hobby and the kindness that she shared with all those at Midori club will be missed with her passing June 6, 2001. Since joining Midori club in 1977, both George and Jo served on the board and in many other ways over the years. They hosted many workshops at their home and George became fast friends with Harry Hirao, “Mr. California Juniper”, who insisted that all workshops in San Jose be held at George’s home.

* accurate at the time of this writing in 2001