Lily E. Woodruff devotee Imberman dies; found paradise in his garden

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The rose has been called the queen of flowers, but you failed to convince Woody Imberman.

He loved an enchantress with many names: Scheherazade, Elusive, Eyeliner, Night Flyer, Anastasia, Tiger Babies, Red Velvet, Rio Negro, Amethyst Temple.

To him, nothing compares to the lure of the tall, rugged six-petalled beauty that is the lily.

Mr. Imberman had the serious air of a professor. He smoked a pipe, wore tweed jackets and worked as a management consultant, driving better employee relations and profitability at major manufacturers including paper mills and TimkenSteel.

Woody Imberman (in orange shirt) was a frequent judge at flower shows. | Facebook picture

But back home in Winnetka, “he had a garden full of lilies. The garden was where he lived,” said Sue Augustine, president of the Wisconsin-Illinois Lily Society, a group he helped lead. “It was his sacred space.”

He once gave a talk at the Chicago Botanic Garden on “How to Find John Milton’s Paradise Lost in Your Garden with Lilies.”

He has given presentations throughout the Midwest on growing and grooming lilies. He showed off the thousand lilies in his garden as he opened his house for walks in the garden. He has won numerous “Best in Show” awards and served as an international judge at flower shows, his sister Mariah said.

To honor his mother, he hybridized – or crossed – a lily which he named “Jane’s Memory”. According to her son Lane, she was nicknamed “Tiger” for when she disguised a group of boys who tricked her garden.

Because of her father, Lane Imberman said, “I named my daughter Lily.”

Mr. Imberman, who had cancer, died Nov. 21 at his home in Winnetka. He was 77 years old.

Woody Imberman was president of the Wisconsin-Illinois Lily Society.  |  Photo provided

Woody Imberman was president of the Wisconsin-Illinois Lily Society. | Photo provided

Born Elias Woodruff Imberman in Des Moines, he grew up in Hinsdale in the 1940s. His parents Abraham and Jane Imberman, originally from New York and Baltimore, owned a 5-acre farm. “They were Easterners and they were fascinated by the country, its healthiness,” his sister said.

After graduating from Hinsdale Township High School, he worked for the US Geological Survey in northern Idaho. It was in the late 1950s. “They saw a lot of bears and he really learned how to handle an axe. He learned to look at a tree and tell which way it was going to fall,” his son said.

In 1963, he received a bachelor’s degree from the Illinois Institute of Technology, followed by a master’s and a doctorate in history from the University of Chicago. His thesis was titled “The Formative Years of the Chicago Bridge & Iron Company.”

In the early 1960s, he worked as a reporter for the Chicago Daily News, his sister said.

Most of his career was spent at the management consulting firm founded by their father, Imberman and DeForest. He has written hundreds of articles for industry magazines on labor relations and compensation issues, his sister said. Some have appeared in the Harvard Business Review.

Woody Imberman with his son, Lane, on his wedding day.  Unusually, he wears an orchid on his lapel rather than his favourite, a lily.  Photo provided

Woody Imberman with his son, Lane, on his wedding day. Unusually, he wears an orchid on his lapel rather than his favourite, a lily. Photo provided

But lilies were her passion. Visitors to her garden found “an explosion of colors and fragrances”, her son said.

“He loved the smell and the shape of the petals and the variations,” his sister said.

“He was really pushing himself on the weekends to weed and stake. He could have had landscapers do menial type stuff, but he never did,” his son said.

Sometimes he wondered why his father worked so hard. “My God, all that work for this beautiful flower that’s short-lived,” said Lane Imberman, “and work hard through the fall, cover the gardens, cut the flowers.”

Woody Imberman was happiest in his backyard with his family.  |  Photo provided

Woody Imberman was happiest in his backyard with his family. | Photo provided

But “He just loved it. They were so beautiful. You would sit in his garden and it would be perfume.

When Lane was a boy, Mr. Imberman took him to the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago, the Museum of Science and Industry and the Lyric Opera. He coached his football team, was involved in Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts, and enjoyed white-water rafting with him. On a trip to Annapolis, they saw navy ships. They went fossil hunting in South Dakota.

He had started sharing similar adventures with Lily and her other grandchildren, Blake and Olivia.

His marriage to Louise Lane ended in divorce.

Services took place. His sister said about half – around 500 – of Mr Imberman’s lilies are being moved to the Church of Christ in Winnetka, where his ashes are interred, to create a memorial garden.

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