Karl Bapst: The Beauty of a Rose

By+Kathy Jonas

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. - William Shakespeare

 

Karl Bapst loved roses. At one time he had an estimated 500 rose bushes in his yard. He answered online questions for the American Rose Society. He gave seminars about roses, helped others plant roses and often was a confidant to those who had questions about how to grow roses.  

But despite having a nickname and a website called “Rosenut,” in the end this Northwest Indiana man was defined more by his kindness to others than his love of America’s most popular flower. 

Since his death on January 14, it’s apparent that the 75-year-old northwest Indiana man made an impact nationwide. Many of his admirers had only met him through email, but felt a very strong connection and were inspired by his positive attitude in the face of some very difficult challenges.

 

Read just a few comments about him:

“I never had the chance to meat Karl personally, but his advice and kind words kept my roses going when I wanted to throw in the towel “– Belinda, Lexington, Kentucky

“I don’t know Karl personally, but enjoyed so much his posts on the Gardenweb Forum…He touched so many with his passion for roses and will be greatly missed on the Forum” -Judith, Texas

“I first met Karl on the Garden Web’s rose forum, then found out he lived in my area. I had the pleasure of meeting him in person a few times! He was a very nice man with a world of knowledge of roses” – Kathleen, Schererville, Indiana

“We will treasure the Sunset Rose Karl gave us for our garden. His memory will be honored by our care of his gift” – Betty, DeMotte, Indiana.

“I know you will hear this a lot, but his passion for gardening and roses in particular had a lasting impact on my life. Twice I had the privilege of spending time in person with this amazing man” – Shannon, Baroda, Michigan.

 

A little background about this extraordinary person: he retired in 1998 as a supervisor at the Ford Motor Company Chicago Assembly Plant after 30 years of service. He moved to a home in Wheatland, 40 miles south of Griffith, in 2001.  He always said the main love of his life was his wife, Nancy, and his six children, but roses were always in his thoughts. According to his website, he suffered a “bout” of leukemia in 1982 and then had a massive stroke in 2002, which left him paralyzed on his left side. 

His daughter, Luci Whitehead, said he didn’t grow roses until after his leukemia diagnosis. “ He said he was not sure why he survived and that he almost died twice in the hospital….He said that God must have kept him around for a reason, so he started growing roses and realized that he was around to spread the beauty of the rose and to share his knowledge….and from there the rest is history!”

Then came the stroke. “The stroke left me unable to hold a job but having turned 65….I think maybe it’s time to stop and smell the roses before I’m pushing them up,” he said on his website. 

A good friend and fellow Rosarian, Adolph Ferber, went to visit him at Munster Community Hospital after his stroke. “I went into his room and there were garden tools everywhere. I asked him what he was doing with the tools and he said he was going to do a rose seminar for the hospital staff. That was three days after his stroke.”

The way he adapted to this new disability is indicative of his strong character and his fighting spirit. Karl’s family helped him reconstruct his greenhouse and convinced him to get a scooter (he went through two) which gave him the mobility to weed and do other gardening chores some might deem impossible. 

“The stroke has forced me to find other ways to accomplish things I took for granted before,” he wrote on his site. “It’s taught me to adapt but it hasn’t kept me from the passion and hobby of growing Roses.” 

Donna Briggs, editor of the Sauk Trail Rose Society said Karl’s methods of gardening while dealing with physical problems that included the scooter, a grabber and his right arm, garnered national attention. 

A co-worker at the Ford plant related that Karl made the job so much easier because of his humor and positive outlook on life. “After he moved to Wheatfield I visited him many times to see his beloved roses and even called one of them the Murphy Rose,” said Sandra Murphy of LaPierre, Indiana. “He actually was one of the very few supervisors who appreciated what he called his ‘good workers.’ I am sorry I won’t get to visit him again in his glorious rose haven.”

Life+Spaces contacted Karl back in December for an article we were planning on the popular rose shrub variety, Knock Out Roses ™. He took the time to type up three pages of detailed answers to questions and showed a lot of kindness and his famous passion for what he loved. 

“I’m always here and look forward to your questions. My expertise is growing roses suited for our area (Region 5) and that require little maintenance and need no spraying. I’m not all that active anymore due to my age (I’m 75) and health issues. My mind is still clear.“

He was active in many different organizations. He was an office holder in the Duneland Rose Society, a Master Rosarian and Life Member of the American Rose Society; a life member of the Home Gardening Club, and a Purdue University Advanced Master Gardener and Master Composter.

When his health deteriorated, he donated most of his rose bushes to the Taltree Arboretum in Valparaiso. “Not only did his enthusiasm for these beautiful flowers inspire hundreds if not thousands of people over his lifetime, his indomitable spirit taught us many lessons about life itself,” said Alexis Faust, President and CEO of Taltree. 

He wrote in the American Rose Magazine in September, 2012: “What will become of your roses when you are gone? May I suggest you make arrangements to preserve them.”

His loving family honored his request by asking those who wanted to remember him to make a donation to a place he loved in lieu of flowers. 

 

If you would like to make a donation in his name, please do so at Taltree Arboretum & Gardens, 71 N. 500 W., Valparaiso, IN 46385, or you can call at 219-462-0025 or contribute online at Taltree.org.








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