Awarded June 26th, 2010

Recovery from extreme corrective back surgery prevented the 2010 Alex J Summers Distinquished Merit Award winner from attending the 2010 AHS convention. Because he could not be there in person to receive his award, he asked Carol Brashear to accept on his behalf. Below is her speech and more.

   Bob Axmear was born in Sigourney Iowa. From there his family moved to a 1200 acre farm in North English, Iowa, and Bob grew up with a real connection to the land and nature.

   As a young man, he became a heavy equipment operator, moving the earth for a living.  While working on building highway B20, near Clear Lake, Iowa, Bob was enjoying a swim after work when he had a serious accident. He broke his neck diving. This was his second major spinal injury - earlier he had suffered three broken vertebrae in his lower back. He says, “between the 2 mishaps, my spine was pretty much trashed”.

   Unable to continue as an operator, Bob went on to take college classes in digital electronics, computer science and horticulture. He began doing website work nearly as soon as he purchased his first computer, beginning somewhere around 1998. As Bob tells it, first he began building websites, then he went to school for it. 

Bob Axmear


   Building his first website began when he had some people buy some Hosta ‘Honeybells’ from him. He thought that was some pretty easy money so he made a trip up to Shady Oaks Nursery,  in Waseca, Minnesota,  where he purchased 200 new hostas. “Then,” he said, “people said they didn’t want them anymore so I learned to do websites in order to sell them!  It just took off from there and at the peak I was doing around 35 websites. Now I’m down to maybe a dozen, and not taking on any new customers. Haven’t for years”.

   Luckily for us hosta-lovers, Bob was a member of one of the first internet hosta photo sharing forums (originally called Pixlist - now Hostapix). Back in late February of 1999 a discussion began about whether anyone had seen photos of some of the newest hosta cultivars offered in the nursery catalogs that were arriving in the mail at that time. In the forum postings, Glen Williams of Springfield, Vermont, mentioned that since hosta photos are old news by the time most books are written, printed and sold, it would be ideal if photos of new hostas could be at a web site on the Internet somehow.

   At the time, I  had been attending the AHS annual hosta conventions since 1991 and had been taking photos of and cataloguing individual plants. I also had one of the first “home” models of a color scanner, so could make digital copies of my hosta photos. When I mentioned that, it sparked Bob to say that he builds websites and that he could probably put something together if someone else could supply the photos. Bingo! The HostaLibrary was born.

   Bob says “Anyway at 1:30AM on the 28th of February, 1999 (I wrote it down, I do this for all websites) I was still working on something and decided to create the framework for the site. It actually was about the same as it is now, good or bad.” It began then as what those forum enthusiasts called the "Photo Library". Below are some of the postings from Bob as the idea of a hosta photo library got its start in March of 1999 :

I do hope this photo library gets off the ground and have maybe 20 more photos I am going to add this afternoon. Anybody else have any?
Bye Bob
I guess as many as I can when I have time which would be an hour or more a day. I talked to the server guy and he said we could have 10mgs which would probably be close to 400 photos depending on how big they are. I already have gotten some great ones that we don't see everyday on there.
Bye Bob
How the HostaLibrary looked in January, 2002
I told Carol I would be willing to make a website of photos but usually never get much cooperation from anyone in a venture like this. Carol is going to be sending me some photos and I know Clyde will donate photos but would anyone else? I would do it for the fun of it for awhile (until I had to rent more space on the server) but if anyone wanted to send me a nice hosta once in awhile for my efforts that would be fine too. :-)
Bye Bob
Good morning everyone
    There seems to be a lot of interest in the photo library and if anyone would like to donate photos anonymously that would be fine too.
Bye Bob

I am too lazy to count but I checked html files and there is almost 500 in the library. Subtracting for the ones that glue the whole thing together there must be close to 400 photos so far and a lot coming everyday.
Bye Bob
If anyone would like to learn a little html I would be glad to teach them what I know of it, at certain times I could
use some help keeping up.
Bye Bob
Hi again
    Now that the library seems to be taking off some does anyone want to take up a collection so it can have it's own domain name.
Bye Bob
Good morning
Barbara Jones has volunteered to be treasurer for the photo library. This is where anyone can send a donation which certainly doesn't have to be large. If people were to send $5-10 that would go along ways in supporting it. Just think of it compared to those $100 hostas and it isn't much. 
Bye Bob
It was May 12, 1999 that Bob sent this message over the forum:
Hello everyone that is interested - I registered the Hosta Library just now as  I had to make a quick decision and went for it. We have been getting 10 or better new photos a day now so it is growing fast.
Bye Bob


   This grass roots idea and implementation needed some funding to secure space on the world wide web, so the members of that early hosta discussion forum scraped up about $150 in donations to keep Bob going. In the middle of the following winter, I suggested we donate hostas and other items and have the first internet auction. A date was set and Lu Treadway of  Atlanta, Georgia, offered to keep track of the donations and collect the funds. A total of fifty nine items were donated from all over the US and Canada and we collected a surprising $3,638.75. Barbara Jones of Chelmsford, MA became the treasurer for the Library and has kept the books and paid the bills ever since.
   From that meager beginning the HostaLibrary grew by leaps and bounds with photo contributions from all over the world. There were early critics that some of the photos were of poor quality or incorrect but Bob Axmear kept collecting them and building the "HostaLibrary of the People." I recall at one point I suggested to Bob that he might remove some of the single division photos or some that were not in focus once he had several examples of large clumps. "No!" he said. “ this is not the Library of one or two photographers. Other people get a thrill seeing their photographs on the Internet at the Library too and if they took the time to send in photos, they are staying!” He was emphatic.

   From time to time Bob will feel the Library is getting stale and he will put out a call for new photos. He will start a contest to collect any new photos of plants that are not already pictured.  Bob is always the first and most generous to offer a prize plant to the winner who sends in the greatest number. Others also donate, but Bob Axmear is always first.
   In late 2000, Bob purchased online auction software for the HostaLibrary and began setting up hosta auctions right at the site. The HostaLibrary Auction remains the place to look for some of the best and most interesting hostas.
   Beginning in February 2001, the mid-winter First Look Online Auction became an annual event that the HostaLibrary hosted and in time Don Dean moved the winter AHS Online Auction to the HostaLibrary site with lots of help from Bob.
   Over the years Bob has added much other helpful hosta-related information to the Library and now you can find almost anything about hostas at the HostaLibrary. Vendors, definitions, seed starting, virus and disease information, planting and dividing tips, even a popular little conversion gizmo that will convert all kinds of things. A few years ago Hugo Phillips linked his database to the Library, providing information on each page about the cultivar. Two years ago W. George Schmid added his Hosta species update to the HostaLibrary, together with realms of information. Bill Meyer alerted the world to the fast-spreading problem with HVX on pages there too.
   If the HostaLibrary weren't enough to promote the genus Hosta and earn Bob Axmear the Alex J. Summers Distinguished Merit Award, he has also begun introducing hostas of his own creation. Sometime in early 2000 Bob found and named his first sport, naming it after his youngest daughter, Hosta 'Kristie Axmear'. Soon after that Bob started hybridizing and now grows tens of thousands of seedlings. From his efforts came new named varieties with the Waukon prefix. Among them are 'Waukon Thin Ice', 'Waukon Water', 'Waukon Glass' and the latest addition to the series, 'Waukon Golden Pond'.
   Over the years, Internet hosta forums have come and gone. Internet hosta websites have come and gone. Hosta nurseries internet and otherwise have come and gone. Through it all, Bob Axmear and the HostaLibrary stand as lasting examples of how when one door closes, another one can open.
   Bob suffered a career-ending injury and had to find a new line of work. Hosta 'Honeybells' had multiplied to where Bob could sell some for some extra money, but a purchase of 200 new hosta didn't sell in his small hometown of Waukon, Iowa, so Bob learned how to build a website in order to sell off those hostas. Bob joined one of the internet hosta forums and soon had hosta friends everywhere that were clammoring to see photos of the latest and greatest cultivars being offered.
   One thing led to another and the HostaLibrary was born Feb. 28, 1999. The hosta world changed dramatically that day. No longer do we try to imagine what a new hosta looks like as we read catalog descriptions - we all head straight for the HostaLibrary to see if it's in there yet. Usually it is!
   Volunteers and contributors to the HostaLibrary have come and gone. A few of the originals are still around but the one whose idea it was, and the one who selflessly puts in hour after hour of work, day after day, month upon month, year after year, who never let's this invaluable tool get stale or go dark, is Bob Axmear. In every internet search that contains "hosta", the first result is always the For a long time now, it has been the unquestioned #1 go-to source for hosta information. Where would we all be without it?
   At last count (Oct. 6, 2010) the HostaLibray listed 5441 varieties. Although Bob does not have an actual count of the number of hosta photos featured at the HostaLibrary, he estimates it is in excess of  16,350 photos. Early statistics were not kept, but in the year 2005, total pageviews were 355,000. By 2006, total pageviews for the year were 358,195. In 2008 the number of pageviews for the year had increased by 10,000 to 368,440. And the last full year of statistics show that the total pageviews at the HostaLibrary in 2009 were 412,370!
   And last but not least, the number of visits to the HostaLibrary that have been counted. After a few years of not even having a counter keeping track at the site, and after at least 2 moves and a couple of hiccups when the counter was not functioning,  the counter today has recorded very nearly four million hits!

   When Bob was called and informed that he had been chosen as the 2010 winner of the Summers Award, it was explained to him that he would have to choose a hosta as the AJS Distinguished Merit Hosta. He immediately said his favorite hosta, the one he had been using extensively in his hybridizing program, was Hosta 'Dorothy Benedict'. Unfortunately, he was told that he could not choose that one as it had already been chosen by Dr. Jim Wilkins when he received the Summers Award in 2007.
   Bob's second choice was not a difficult one as he had rallied support for this cultivar to be chosen by the American Hosta Growers Association plant of the year. It took him two years of ceaseless campaigning and featuring it prominently on the home page of the HostaLibrary, but eventually the growers association saw the value of this plant that Bob has long sung the praises of, choosing it as their Hosta of the Year for 2007.
   And so for Bob's choice of the AJS Distinguished Merit Hosta for 2010 he has chosen - Hosta 'Paradigm'.
   Paradigm is a gold-centered, green-edged sport of the all-gold Hosta 'Abiqua Recluse', a 1989-registered Charles "Chuck" Purtyman seedling that resulted from a cross of 'White Vision' x 'Sum and Substance'. 'Paradigm' was found at Walden West, Dr. Purtyman's nursery, and registered in 1999.
   When Bob was asked why he likes this cultivar enough to choose it for the award he simply said, "It grows well in the sun or the shade and it's just a great plant!"


   Through it all since 1999 there is the man who, despite continuing problems with his back and neck, volunteers so much of his time to keep everything going at the HostaLibrary. He does it for the love of our
favorite genus. He does it for all of us who want to know more. To see more of what hostas actually look like rather than just read catalog descriptions.
   Known to most as BobAxe, or Bob Axmear, or even Robert J. Axmear, but mostly known as just Bob, he was this year nominated then chosen by the Summers Award Committee for this the AHS' highest individual award which is
"given to a member of the Society in recognition of having given outstanding  
service to the development of the genus Hosta, the Society, or both."
   Our Bob joins some illustrious company as a Summers Award recipient, and no one can deny that he has earned his spot amongst them with all the uncounted hours he has spent in cheerful service to us all.
   It is my opinion that this award could not have gone to a person more devoted to the genus Hosta. He demonstrates it every day, year on year on year. He is always the first to donate to any cause to raise funds when it comes to hostas or hosta people. After 15 years of tireless work on the world's top hosta resource, Bob has taken a step back from the bulk of the work, but continues to contribute and guide his Library as it moves forward. 

   Thank you, Bob Axmear, for the gift of the HostaLibrary!

Above: Bob and Mary Axmear, with daughter Krissy (left) and daughter Nickie Vitali (right) 
Left: Bob and Mary after their wedding (1976)

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