Greater Tulsa Reporter
NATURE ENTHUSIAST: Tulsa Garden Center Executive Director Laura Chalus stands outside the mansion, 2435 S. Peoria Ave., which serves as the garden center’s offices. Chalus entered her role on Sept. 1, with many points of focus, including the rose gardens, which have been recently devastated by Rose Rosette Disease.
EMILY RAMSEY for GTR Newspapers
Editor’s Note: Laura Chalus, executive director of the Tulsa Garden Center, is one of Greater Tulsa Reporter’s “10 People to Watch in 2017,” as announced in its January 2017 issue.
As a long-time garden hobbyist and self-proclaimed lifelong learner, Laura Chalus was quite familiar with the Tulsa Garden Center, 2435 S. Peoria Ave., before she ever considered applying for its executive director position.
Therefore, after she was hired in August 2016, Chalus was surprised that what she found at the garden center far surpassed her expectations.
“I was amazed by the community feel at the garden center and at Woodward Park: it’s a home away from home for many people,” she says, those “people” including those in the garden center’s numerous affiliate organizations.
“These are my people. They love gardening and nature. When there is so much negativity in the world, this is a place where it doesn’t exist,” she continues.
Chalus’ professional history has been wrapped up with nonprofit work. She has worked for Workforce Tulsa and Tulsa Community Foundation, among others, managing grants, overseeing fundraising, and working with event management.
“Helping people is at my core. I always feel like I should be making a contribution.”
An Inola native, Chalus earned her bachelor’s degree in university studies from Oklahoma State University and recently received her master’s from the University of Oklahoma in human relations, with an emphasis on organizational studies.
Before earning her bachelor’s degree, Chalus pursued accounting and chemistry. “I’m a left-brain thinker,” she admits.
For that reason, she wanted to enhance her skills in human relations and chose to focus her master’s degree on an area heavily focused on self-exploration, she continues. “It helped me find meaning and purpose for myself.”
Before applying for the position at the Tulsa Garden Center, Chalus was working as a contract accountant and “keeping my options open and just paying attention to things put in front of me,” she says.
So, when a friend suggested she apply for the garden center’s job opening, Chalus felt as if it was placed in front of her for a reason.
“All roads have led me here,” she says.
Since joining the garden center, Chalus has compiled a number of priorities, two of those being the maintenance of the center’s facilities and mansion and the improvement of its rose garden, which lost about half of its rose bushes last year due to Rose Rosette Disease.
Chalus first focused on the state of the garden center’s 97-year-old mansion in order to provide better customer service to the affiliate groups that use the mansion on a daily basis.
These groups include numerous horticulture and community organizations.
“We started cleaning the nooks and crannies of the mansion and organizing storage areas,” she says, with the overall focus of “maintaining and respecting the history of the mansion.”
The land that the mansion sits on was originally a Creek Indian allotment. The mansion, built in 1920, holds decades of history, including as one of Tulsa’s original Jewish synagogues, which was located in the basement.
“We want to emphasize all of that history and open the area up for tours and make the mansion more convenient and hospitable,” she says.
Recently, Chalus and her team have turned their attention to the 4.5-acre rose garden, a WPA (Works Progress Administration) project that was built in 1934.
“The rose garden used to win national awards,” she says.
Thanks in part to its rose garden, Tulsa received the designation as “America’s Most Beautiful City” in a 1957 Reader’s Digest article.
The rose garden has recently been largely affected by Rose Rosette Disease, an incurable virus caused by an eriophyid mite that has created increasing amounts of rose bush devastation in recent years across North America.
In an effort to learn more about the disease, the garden center has joined a national rose research effort, dedicating two of its six rose terraces, or tiers, to research.
“We want to be a part of the solution,” says Chalus.
The disease has also caused us to change the way we look at the rose garden, she says, such as the layout of the rose garden, what plants are in the rose garden and how to maintain the bushes that we currently have.
In the coming months, the staff plans to add additional plants to the rose garden, including plants for pollinators and monarch butterflies, with a focus on beautifying the garden.
This will be done in time for the garden center’s much-anticipated Wine and Roses event that will return, after a year’s hiatus, in September.
However, with Wine and Roses will come some rebranding changes, including a renaming of the event.
“The cancelation of the event last year allowed us to take a breath and look at the event and determine how we can keep up with the times,” says Chalus.
Board members are looking at downsizing and improving the quality of the food and wine vendors to create a higher-end event.
“We are carrying on the tradition but keeping it fresh. Even though the name may change, individuals will still be in for a delightful tasting.”