We regret the loss of another or our fine iris hybridizers from California with the death of Ben Hager in the first week of May. Ben became interested in the Louisiana irises when he first worked for Milliken Iris Gardens in Southern California. They were one of the first large commercial gardens to offer what was then a new type of irises.
It was here he met Sid DuBose, who had been a student in horticulture at Louisiana State University and an early member of the Society for Louisiana Irises. The two left Milliken in 1955 to buy and operate Melrose Iris Gardens in Modesto, California. Four years later they moved to Stockton, California.
Ben was known primarily as a hybridizer of bearded irises, but worked with many different species and lately with daylilies. Most iris growers identify him with his famous award-winning pinks, VANITY and BEVERLY SILLS, which make the tall bearded popularity poll each year. Louisiana iris growers know him for his excellent dark purples, FULL ECLIPSE (1977) and DARK TIDE (1981) and his hardy reds, CAJUN COUNTRY (1985) and CAJUN COOKERY (1989).
Ben's encouragement influenced the work of Mary Dunn, for whom he named an iris. This iris, MARY DUNN, won the DeBaillon Award in 1977. Much of the instant popularity of the Chowning irises can be credited to Hager, who introduced them in the late 1970s with a full page color picture of ANN CHOWNING on the cover of the Melrose catalog. It was this type of publicity for the Louisiana irises that made Ben one of our best promoters. He was an off and on member of the Society, but came to several meetings in Lafayette and authored articles for the Newsletter. His extensive plantings of Louisiana irises exposed them to the hundreds of people who visited the Melrose garden.
I remember my first AIS convention after retiring in 1972, not having attended a convention since 1960. Neither had other representatives of Region 10 (Louisiana). At the Welcome Dinner when I stood up for Region 10, Ben Hager and Sid DuBose stood up, clapped, yelled and whistled! How could anyone forget such a spontaneous welcome? This is just one of the ways Ben Hager endeared himself to all the members of the American Iris Society.