By Elizabeth Keys
There’s not a Hall of Fame for coaches’ wives — or mothers of three boys — as many women bloom beautifully behind the scenes when seeds of glory are sown. Patsy Sutton, mom to Steve, Sean and Scott, followed her famous husband, Eddie, through a storied career and was always courtside at her sons’ games, too, watching them all grow tall in the jungles of competitive athletics. She was the unofficial mother to countless college basketball players away from home — some from not much of a place to even call home — yet she quietly helped them blossom.
Stillwater was the place she grew up and learned a love for gardening from her parents, Ray J. and Natalie Wright. When Patsy died in January 2013 at the age of 74, the Sutton family designated the Sheerar Museum of Stillwater History for memorials as a way to honor her walk on Earth — “Patsy’s Path.”
Patsy’s love for preserving the history of Stillwater was evident as she spent numerous volunteer hours working to make the gardens of the Sheerar Museum beautiful. She was a charter member of the Late Bloomers Garden Club which conceived, established and maintains the Heritage Garden at the Sheerar Museum, an oasis of color and beauty west of the building just blocks from downtown. Many homes of early pioneer settlers had gardens on the west side of their properties and the Late Bloomers Garden Club concentrated on historical and heirloom plants for the area when they started the Heritage Garden in 1997.
“Whether she was pulling weeds or planting flowers, the garden was always a source of pride and enjoyment to her,” said Gayle Robinson, a museum board member.
Patsy was active establishing the garden and in other Sheerar Museum activities. She was a member of the Sheerar board for several years, including serving as president in 1999. Patsy’s good work resulted in her receiving the Pillar Award, the museum’s highest formal recognition for her volunteer service. Among the accomplishments during her leadership was the identification and repair of structural damages to the building which is on the Register of Historical Buildings.
Robinson remembers Patsy’s life was filled with books, a quest for antiques which warmed her home and her love for her family, where she was truly a “pillar” of strength.
“Patsy was instrumental in the museum’s project of planting 2,000 daffodil bulbs around the grounds in honor of the millennium,” Robinson said. “She never doubted that we could do it — and we did. ”
The garden received recognition from the White House as a Millennium Green Project in 2000 and continues to be a favorite spot for photographers and picnickers.
“Patsy’s Path” features a new sidewalk in the Heritage Garden trimmed with her favorites such as Annabelle hydrangeas, oakleaf hydrangeas and other heirloom plants. Nine white daisies were planted in honor of the Sutton’s nine grandchildren who affectionately called their grandmother “Honey.” Robinson said Patsy was an expert regarding bulbs and the Heritage Garden has 12 varieties of day lilies. The plantings also serve as a teaching tool with specimens labeled for public visual references.
A bench commemorating Patsy sits near a table for the many who stop for a shady spot to rest or eat their sack lunch. A sprinkler system was also added.
“We received significant donations through Patsy’s memorials,” Robinson said. “Eddie has also been very supportive of the garden, the creation of Patsy’s Path and helping develop it to fruition. They were married 54 years and he knew how much she loved the garden.”
Patsy’s Path is dedicated to Patsy Sutton for many reasons but “when we donned our gardening gloves, the Late Bloomers came together not only to garden, but to share stories of family and friends,” Robinson said.
Through the years, the Late Bloomers have included Robinson, Merry Alexander, Sue Wright, Lynn Case, Kay Lewter, Ann Berry, Harriet Phillips, Katie Fellows, Caroline Linehan, Patricia Majid and others. Several recalled memories of Patsy.
“She didn’t hesitate to do whatever needed to be done — dirt under her fingernails, digging, planting, deadheading and all,” remembered Phillips.
Lynn Case said the group was enriched by Patsy’s thirst for knowledge and her calm demeanor, along with her sense of humor and willingness to tackle projects. Patsy often shared her knowledge with the club, especially her interests in daffodils and oriental lilies. Even after moving to Tulsa, Patsy would return to Stillwater to help in the garden. Less than a month before her death, Kay Lewter said Patsy posted on Facebook,
“Back to Stillwater today for a beautiful Christmas brunch with the Late Bloomers, my special group of gardening friends . . .”
Robinson said, “She was always a friend — and will forever be in our hearts.”