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His winning ways

  • Chet Wilson, the president of the Men's Garden Show of Santa Rosa, with the latest "Flower Power" exhibit in the Hall of Flowers at the Sonoma County Fair.

Chet Wilson is one of the busier bees at the Sonoma County Fair’s Hall of Flowers. He’s also something of a Forrest Gump.

Lean, balding and vigorous at 77, Wilson pauses while buzzing about the daily plant sale just outside the hall’s main door. He considers a fairly simple question:

How did he come to be there, a creative force in large part responsible for the amateurs of the Men’s Garden Club of Santa Rosa winning ribbons year after year at the Hall of Flowers despite the competition from professional landscape designers and nurseries?

Hall Of Flowers At The Sonoma County Fair

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A broad smile comes to Wilson and he readies himself to respond. This would not be a simple answer.

He says, “If I passed away tomorrow, I’d say I had a good life.” Good for sure, and also quite stunningly remarkable.

This fellow was the Ohio state baton-twirling champion before he became a Marine. He recounts a lifelong series of right place, right time encounters that led to him doing well — most often, exceptionally well — as a custom shirt salesman, stockbroker, Academy of Art graduate, Joseph Magnin department store display designer, home-interior consultant to a Texas tycoon and to pro football icon John Madden, owner, at various times, of a Sebastopol nursery, that same town’s upscale home-accessories boutique and a Santa Rosa design center and, for the past decade, the transforming president of the Garden Club.

It began with his birth in 1936 to a large, hardworking but poor family in Depression-stressed Spencerville, Ohio.

“I’m the second-oldest of 10 boys and four girls,” Wilson said.

In high school, he found he was miserable at shop. So he became one of the few boys to choose the office-skills route, bookkeeping and typing and such. That training would serve him very well later on.

As a kid interested in music, he learned that his family was plenty impoverished enough for him to qualify for a loaned band instrument. Picking the saxophone, he took it home to commence practicing.


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