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The Camellia Connection

The Camellia Connection
Spring is an especially meaningful time for Jo Ann and Leslie Brewer, who share 58 years of marriage, three children, four grandchildren— and a lifelong passion for camellias. Most recently, they co-chaired the 64th Annual Pomona Camellia Society Show at the La Verne Community Center, one of many shows they participate in every spring. And, say the Brewers, they feel fortunate that their retirement offers them the opportunity to pursue their passions. The Brewers met by chance through a cousin of a good friend and soon discovered that both came from families that raised camellias. Jo Ann’s parents were involved in the Santa Rosa Camellia Society, while Leslie’s family was known for their huge Southern California garden— with its abundant and very mature camellia plants. Not surprisingly, the couple’s wedding reception was adorned with camellias from his parents’ garden. “Our first home was a ranch house in La Verne, it was a beautiful house, surrounded by gardens including, ponds, orange groves and 40-year old camellias. We moved to Claremont in 1967 and we’ve been there ever
since.” Jo Ann says.

Work, Family and Flower Shows
Now retired, both Brewers worked while raising their children, Lindsey, Melanie and Marshall. Jo Ann taught Kindergarten through fifth grade in the Charter Oak School District, often teaching several grades at the same time in an “open classroom.”In addition, she served on the President’s Advisory Board and as an adjunct professor at La Verne College (now University of La Verne). Jo Ann retired after 30 years of teaching in 1992.

Leslie retired a year earlier from Stillinger’s Interiors in Pomona. “He executed the ideas of the firm’s interior designers,” says Jo Ann. “That’s always been his gift—building things and making them work—and he’s still a ‘fixer’ kind of guy. Nothing stays broken long around our house!” The Brewer’s absolute favorite thing to do, however, is tending their camellias in their garden consisting of 90 bushes and 90 plants in pots. They have a sophisticated drip irrigation system to help water the plants, and make their own mulch out of acorns and tree leaves. “We’re outdoors working in the garden every day, which is a lot of work, but also very therapeutic and a lot of fun,” Jo Ann says. “That is what’s so lovely about retire ment; you can choose how you spend your time.”

In addition to their love of gardening, the Brewers also enjoy the time spent “showing” their prize-winning camellias through the Southern California Camellia Society. “Our first win was in 1988,” Jo Ann says, “and now, every year we’re showing our flowers from mid-January to the second week of March— from Bakersfield to San Diego.” Their son, Lindsey, has stayed involved with the family passion, attending as many of his parents’ shows as time allows.

Beyond the Garden
Long involved in the Claremont United Methodist Church, the Brewers have volunteered in the church’s food pantry for some 15 years, sorting and storing
donations, as well as distributing food to the homeless. They also have an
adventurous side, having celebrated their 58th wedding anniversary in January by
going hot air ballooning. And Jo Ann celebrated her 80th birth day last summer by taking the Catalina Zip Line with her grandchildren. “Gliding from the hills in Avalon, among the treetops and down to the sea was a hoot!” she says. The
Brewers enjoy spending time with their children Lindsey, Marshall and Melanie, and their four grandchildren, Lauren, Todd, Samantha and Spencer.

Taking Charge of Staying Healthy
Both Jo Ann and Leslie are extremely vigilant about taking responsibility for maintaining their health. Leslie, at age 87, has been in the Cardiac Wellness Program at Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center for 14 years, where he works out three times a week in the fitness center. Jo Ann has also taken advantage of the hospital’s wellness programs, attending the Aquatic Therapy program twice
a week for the past five years at Ability First in Claremont. Additionally, they watch their diet, eating whole grains, lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as mainly chicken and fish, rather than red meat.

“It’s no accident we’re both healthy, active and happy,” adds Jo Ann. “We work at it!”
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