Romine primes minds through scholarship
94-year-old is still planting seeds
By DAVE CLABORN • For The Marion Star • January 11, 2010
MARION - For Trella Romine, it's all about seeds and nature and natural rhythms.
The 94-year-old former owner of Hemmerly's Flowers in Marion has been growing things since she was a little girl planting flower seeds. She's not about to stop now.
Romine has just planted $50,000 worth of seeds that will bear fruit in the minds of Ohio State University students for generations to come. The story of how she came to endow a new "portable" scholarship at The Ohio State University at Marion is really a love story - a story of lives intertwined through a love of nature, music and history.
Trella Romine married W. C. Haldeman in 1938, had two children, Kathi and David, and went to work in her family's flower business. The marriage didn't last, but she found solace attending to her kids and flowers. Then, Ray Romine entered her life. He was a kindred spirit in his appreciation of nature. They married in 1953 and set about building a home near Caledonia, in eastern Marion County.
Ray named it "Terradise," because they felt they had found "Heaven on Earth." It is 18 acres of trees, ponds, gardens and birds along the picturesque Whetstone River that feeds the Olentangy River as it flows south to Columbus and through The Ohio State University.
It was more than a home. It was more a wooded park, where they built the house that Trella designed to fit the narrow area between the road and the river. She would later gift the 12 acres on the left bank of the river as the current Terradise Nature Preserve of the Marion County Park District.
The Romines looked forward to living among the flora and fauna in their personal Garden of Eden for the rest of their lives. For Ray, that meant only one more year. He developed cancer and died in 1954. With two young children to provide for, Trella absorbed the shock, but couldn't afford the luxury of an extended bereavement.
She continued working at the family flower shop and bought her parents' 229 E. Fairground St. business in 1958. In 1966, she moved Hemmerly's Flowers into a modern florist shop at 633 E. Center St. As the new millennium began, she sold it to a longtime employee.
Born on a farm in northern Marion County in 1902, Howard Howser graduated summa cum laude from Ohio Wesleyan University. He had taught in Canton and other places, but after World War II he returned to the Howser property to help his mother on the family farm.
As he plowed his mother's fields near Caledonia in the fall of 1955, a distinguished looking man appeared beside the fence. Howard recognized Superintendent C. D. Pilkington of the Caledonia school. He told Howard the school was without a music teacher. He offered him the position. Howard declined, citing his duties on his mother's farm.
A week later, however, Pilkington appeared again, more insistent this time, saying he'd heard of Howard's talents and wouldn't he reconsider? Howser gave it more thought. Pilkington's persistence indicated a real need, he figured, so this time he relented and became the music teacher for a collection of country kids.
At Caledonia school, Howser was at home, participating in the ebb and flow of planting and harvest and directing young musicians in the school band. He was content, tending to his mother's farm and the musical education of boys and girls - most of whom came from farms not much different from the one he looked after.
Among those young people was David Haldeman - Trella's son. Lacking a musical instrument for David, Howser put drumsticks in his fidgety hands, but soon took them away as punishment for David's insistence on talking in class.
After a suitable intermission, he gave David a trombone, figuring it would occupy both his hands and his mouth. It did - and does today. David Haldeman carries on Howard Howser's legacy by teaching music to young scholars in Cincinnati and playing in many musical groups.
Life's rhythms apply to humans as well as agriculture. Howard's mother died. At the insistence of siblings, her farm had to be sold to provide the inheritance each was due. Howard moved to Florida, but couldn't find the rhythm he so needed in his life. He moved back to Marion, without a job and, essentially, homeless. Trella's son was off to college and she needed help at Terradise. It only made sense to trade what had been her son's room for Howard's labor of working the flower beds, woods and fields of Terradise. It was a rhythm that worked for both.
Trella, business-trained, was good with finances and figures. As he aged, Howard, the musician and farmhand, was baffled by IRS tax forms. One day he told Trella that he simply wrote a thousand dollar check each year and sent it in, figuring it more than covered whatever he owed. Trella was able to take charge and make him "legal." He had few needs on which to spend his school pension and Social Security income. He bought government bonds and put money in his checking account.
Howser and Trella kept each other company. He tended her Terradise. She gave him a room and helped with the details of his personal affairs. It wasn't a marriage in any legal sense. But it was a love affair built on mutual gratitude and grace - the kind of hand-in-glove relationship many married people can only hope for.
In 1993, Howard Howser died. He'd led a generally happy life, in tune with his talents. And he was happy to leave his worldly possessions to Romine, the woman who'd opened her home to him in gratitude for the guidance he'd given her son. Together, they'd found a satisfying rhythm, giving meaning to each of their lives. It was only natural that she should have the contents of his checking account and safe deposit box. It amounted, at the time, to more than $100,000.
With the nurturing she practiced on her plants and business, Romine grew Howser's nest egg. She became, essentially, a quiet foundation. Growing the principal and supporting her favorite causes, she preserved prairies on the OSU-Marion campus and purchased the Trella Romine Prairie in Green Camp Township and gave it to the Marion County Historical Society, which she also supports with the Romine/Howser Endowment Fund.
Today, at 94, Trella is planting more seeds - the seeds her friend Howard Howser left for her. She is establishing the Trella Hemmerly Romine/Howard W. Howser Endowed Scholarship Fund at The Ohio State University-Marion. It will spin off scholarships for students at the Marion Campus, and the scholarships will follow them to other parts of the Ohio State University system.
"My main motivation," she said, "is to provide something for students who, like me, might not get to college without some extra help. I never made it to college, but I want to make sure others can. And I'm sure Howard would want that, too."
Dave Claborn is director of development and community relations at The Ohio State University at Marion.