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Models to portray women in history in Mother’s Day fashion pageant

By Joe Stumpe Eagle correspondent​

Jenny Sullivan grew up idolizing singing cowgirl Dale Evans and her husband, Roy Rogers.

“I had the lunch box and my mother blames my whole horse love and veterinary career on the two of them,” said Sullivan, a small animal and horse veterinarian in Sedgwick County.

Pam Gerber will portray Jackie O in a fashion show at the Bartlett Arboretum on Mother's Day called,

Sullivan loved Evans’ colorful Western costume, too, and on Sunday she’ll re-create it as one of 70 models in a historical fashion pageant for Bartlett Arboretum’s annual Mother’s Day celebration.

Some models will portray actual people, such as Evans and Amelia Earhart, Susan B. Anthony and Sandra Day O’Connor, Jackie O and the Spice Girls. Others will be more generic suffragettes and flappers, hippies and civil rights protesters. Participants range in age from 8 to 85.

The show starts with clothing dating back to 1910, the year the arboretum was founded. Arboretum owner Robin Macy wanted to tie the property’s history into the event, as well as what was happening in music, culture and the world at large.

For instance, she said, the arboretum shut down during World War II – “just like the whole world shut down. Women went and started building at Boeing so Rosie the Riveter is highlighted” in the fashion show.

While the models take their turns on-stage, Wichita Eagle correspondent and former fashion writer Bonnie Bing will offer commentary as a band provides a soundtrack of more than a century of music.

Altogether quite a production, as Macy and her fellow organizers acknowledge.

“I think it probably started out with maybe 30 (models), but we kept finding outfits.,” said Cindi Gentry, a self-described vintage fashion addict who’s providing many of the costumes. “We’d think ‘Who could wear this? Oh no, we forgot this person or this decade. Or somebody would say my niece would make a fabulous Louise Brooks.’” Brooks was the Kansas-born actress of the 1920s and ’30s credited with popularizing the bob haircut.

“It kind of blew up, you know,” Macy said of the show’s size. “We started off in a reasonable manner but … ”

Many of the models are “soil sisters,” as women who volunteer their gardening talents at the arboretum are known, or their daughters and friends.

Gentry expects one of the most admired outfits to be an intricately beaded blouse and underskirt from 1910 that soil sister Sally Kimball will wear. The outfit has been in Kimball’s family since its purchase. Clothes like that “are so hard hard to find because they’re usually in museums,” Gentry said.

Sullivan might be a showstopper as well. Attired in cowboy hat, bright red shirt with fringes and sequins, chaps and some “very colorful boots,” she’ll enter atop a friend’s horse that looks like Evans’ mount, Buttermilk.

Gentry provided many of the costumes from the 1940s forward, while another collector, Pat Watt, furnished clothing from the Edwardian and Victorian eras.

“Her aunts and grandmother were from Philadelphia,” Gentry said. “They would send these garments to her and her mother back in Kansas because they thought those poor kids, they don’t have any clothes.”

Models won’t wear corsets Sunday, but there will be an exhibit of underpinnings at the event, as well as a collection of hats on antique hat stands lent by Hatman Jack owner Jack Kellogg in one of the arboretum’s gardens.

Gentry said she hopes the show and commentary make people realize that, while some people think women were “liberated” in the 1960s, many of their predecessors were actually more rebellious for their times, demanding the right to vote, raise their hemlines and, yes, smoke.

Macy’s singing group, the Cherokee Maidens, will perform, as well as the Sycamore Swing band, joined by saxophonist Lisa Hittle and pianist Emily Strom. Guitarist Ken White has woven together a score of 25 songs.

Freshly dug tulip bulbs will be given away and vendors will sell food.

Macy noted that long-term weather forecasts showed a possibility of rain on Sunday. She said the status of the event will be updated on the arboretum’s website and Facebook page.

“I have already had this event in my mind so many times, if it doesn’t happen, it was a fabulous event,” she said.

Read more here: http://www.kansas.com/living/fashion/article20374089.html#storylink=cpy


Arboretum Finds its Steward

The first time performer Robin Macy saw the Belle Plaine Arboretum she fell in love with it. Now she's weighing just what to do with it
The Wichita Eagle

It's not what I expected — but more than I deserve
Like bluebirds in the springtime, like faith without reserve
When I wake up in the morning and see the dew upon the leaves
It's not what I expected, it looks like diamonds in the trees!
— Robin Macy

Robin Macy says there are a few things every single girl has: a cat, French roast coffee and an aloe vera plant on the kitchen windowsill.

Well, Macy couldn't even keep the aloe vera plant in her tiny rental house in Dallas alive before she bought the Bartlett Arboretum in Belle Plaine on an impulse in 1997.

She was 38, a schoolteacher, a singer and a radio-show host in the big city, and it was 17 acres of disheveled majesty on the back roads of a state that belonged to her boyfriend, not her.

It was the most divinely appointed thing that had ever happened to her.

She saw a for-sale sign on the ornate gates, she saw an old hand-hewn stone table among a wreckage of vines under amazingly tall trees, and within 45 minutes she was on the phone to a real estate agent to buy the only mature tree museum between the Mississippi River and the Rockies.

"I just walked in there and felt like I was in a movie set for 'The Secret Garden,' " Macy says.

It had been closed since 1994, unoccupied by its aging owners, on the market for three years.

"I'd felt like I was a generalist and did a lot of things OK," Macy says of her life up to that time.

"I was very adaptable. I could teach school. I could play music. But I never had that 'This is what you need to do,' that sense of purpose that I think a lot of women get when they have children. This was the purpose."

Macy took the purchase of the arboretum not only as a sign from God that she should restore this overgrown gift, but also as a sign that she should marry her boyfriend, who lived in Derby. He stayed for three years. The arboretum was not his destiny. Macy keeps a cat named Lulabelle that came with the place.

And she has much more than an aloe vera plant on her kitchen windowsill now that she has to pinch herself every morning to be sure it's not all a dream.

"Can you believe I live here?" she says. Not, "Can you believe I own this?" She doesn't think anybody can own those trees. She calls herself "the steward."

Robin Macy is a performer.

The original Dixie Chick who got out of the band before it hit the big time. A geometry teacher who does "the Lord's work" in a Collegiate classroom in Wichita. A natural stage presence who pins up her sand-and-gravel-colored curls Marie Antoinette style, leaving one ringlet to fall down her neck.

But when she's at home, in the storybook house she had hand-built from the wood of dead pine trees at the arboretum, she wants to fade into the background.

That happens easily enough. Once school is out she slips off to work under the decidedly un-Kansan trees that surround her — towering cypresses, incense cedars, loblolly pines, a Dawn redwood.

"I didn't buy this place to keep it to myself," Macy says. "I want to share it."

Despite her work and the helping hands of family, friends, students, teachers and locals whom she calls "my angels," Macy hasn't yet hit upon a financially feasible way to reopen the arboretum.

Visitors do still show up at the gates. The arboretum's closing didn't erase it from outdated maps or back-roads tour books or people's memories.

A woman arrived one day asking to buy the old stone cross in the formal garden, now covered in ivy. It was in front of that cross that she had decided, 18 years ago, to keep the baby she was carrying as an unwed teen.

Now her son was graduating from high school, and she wanted the cross.

Macy wasn't selling, but she invited the son to visit. As long as you don't sue me if you fall and break your leg, she tells visitors, you're free to come in and look around. It's not just weeds, it's the litigious nature of society that has overgrown the trees, made it impossible for Macy to open the arboretum the way she wants to.

She rents it out for weddings as one small way to make money but, to be honest, she hates doing it. The brides and grooms, naturally, are more intent on the event than on the setting.

And for Macy, who lays a carpet of pinecones for the wedding party and has her dad ring a dinner bell that echoes across the woods at the end of the ceremony, the arboretum should be the focus, not the backdrop for anything.

More in her line, she has acoustic concerts on "the Big Z" — a zoysia lawn that she cuts on a riding mower — and wonders about opening up the arboretum for corporate retreats, writers' workshops, art classes.

She'd like to be able to quit her teaching job and devote all her time to the arboretum as her new classroom. For now, she wakes at dawn to pull honeysuckle and Virginia creeper, transplant vinca vine and creeping sedum, cut down volunteer Japanese tree lilacs and sugar maples that sprout like dandelions, drag 37 hoses to water the trees, and muse on moving a group of cedars that's blocking her balcony view of the state's biggest Trident maple.

Robin Macy thinks she was born 50 years late.

"I love old stuff. I play a 50-, 60-year-old guitar. I like old clothes and old furniture and old dogs and old music, because it still has some optimism in it. Older people to me are not about the flash. They're rooted. And moving to Belle Plaine was like moving to 1958. You can run up a tab at the lumber yard, and people offer to help. And my students, when they come out, are always surprised that this is not just something out of a Faulkner novel or a rerun of Mayberry. There's still a world like that."

After her divorce, Macy recalls, she woke up one morning in 2000 with a broken heart and a broken tractor. It was then that she met Matthew Mark Luke Bills, a 78-year-old bachelor farmer who lives down the road and can fix anything with an engine, even Macy's 1949 Ferguson.

"Mat" — he's so frugal he uses only one "t" — has become a regular presence at the arboretum, honking his horn whenever he arrives to work. He's become an unlikely best friend of Macy's, joining her for holidays at her parents' house in Oklahoma and often for dinner at Joe's, the local cafe.

Of all the people the arboretum has touched since Macy bought it, she wonders who needs it most: herself, or Mat Bills, or her parents, who drive up regularly from Edmond to help out, or the students who have found a window there to a world that is not artificial.

"Every year I worry more about our culture and how in the world are our kids gonna find their way," Macy says. "It's the instant gratification. There's so much entertainment. They're raised with constant stimuli. The arboretum to me is the antithesis of it. It's entertaining, but it's slow, and beautiful."

Robin Macy was born right on time, for them and for the arboretum she loves.

Crack in the teacup, I turn it into art
Change in my fortune, I draw a different card
All at once among the ashes a farmer sows new seed
Every wish may not be granted but what comes is what we need.

Reach Annie Calovich at 268-6596 or acalovich@wichitaeagle.com.

Ideas for the Arboretum?

Robin Macy, owner of the Bartlett Arboretum in Belle Plaine, 30 miles south of Wichita, is in the midst of renovating it and trying to figure out how to open it to the public once again.

If you have ideas, you can e-mail her at info@bartlettarboretum.com or by mail at P.O. Box 871, Belle Plaine 67013. A Web site, www.bartlettarboretum.com, is under construction.

"If you forget all of that," Macy says, "just send it to Miss Macy at the Arboretum, Belle Plaine." She's received mail just that way, all the way from New Zealand.

P.O. Box 871 | Belle Plaine, KS 67013  | 620.488.3451