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Remembering our city of roses

Original post made by Jeb Bing, editor of the Pleasanton Weekly, on Dec 28, 2011

Pleasanton once was known as a top rose-growing city in America, thanks to Jackson & Perkins (now bankrupt), which grew and developed roses here. Less known is the work of the DeVor family, today represented by Mary DeVor Dolan and her husband John. Mary's grandfather and father worked for Jackson & Perkins, and then opened the DeVor nurseries, first in Livermore and later along Mohr Road on land they purchased from the Bush family long before Ponderosa built its Ironwood development there.

Mary met John Dolan at the University of Nevada. He left his job as deputy budget director for the state and the two moved back to Pleasanton, where Mary was born in 1943. Now 70, John Dolan also was a rose aficionado, and eventually opened Dolan International, headquartered here but with rose plant propagation farms in Bakersfield and through agents in Ecuador and Colombia. Those agents, Dean Rule and Luis Mariano Botero, are now assuming much of the business and worldwide customers this month as Dolan International closes its Pleasanton business.

Dolan's name is synonymous with many of the top rose varieties grown in the U.S. and Latin America. A trailblazer, he worked tirelessly to open up American-bred roses to the rest of the world though his insight, knowledge and hands-on experience. He traveled the world joining and teaching other rose growers to build the business, and introducing award-winning varieties that helped make roses a global flower in demand. He was the force behind the 30 million plants of "Classy" and more than 30 million plants of the #1 variety in Eastern Europe, "Forever Young."

In September, John Dolan was honored with the prestigious gold medal award by the Society of Florists at a convention in Palm Springs. He thanked the owners and breeders he worked with for over 38 years in the cut rose business, including the important varieties they bred, such as Jack Frost, Forever Yours, Junior Bridesmaid, Coed, Sassy, Fondly, Excitement and Royalty/Vega.

Anyone who has had the fortune to spend an hour with John Dolan quickly realizes the depth of his expertise includes far more than production numbers and variety selections. He is well-versed on politics, golf, fiscal analysis, soccer and history. His dedication to the industry is obvious in the years he has spent in various offices, including the board of governors of Plant Producers, treasurer of Roses Inc., long time director of The Hill Memorial Fund, and more than 15 years as the vice president and president of the International Rose Breeders Association. With help from other rose growers, he was successful in persuading both Colombia and Ecuador, which are fertile countries for top-of-the-line rose growing, to pass patent laws for rose varieties. Although competitive with his own roses, he is also respected for never hesitating to recommend a competitor's variety if it out-performed one of his own.

Both Mary and John Dolan are also known for their patience. Mary says it takes up to 10 years after a new variety seed is germinated before the successive generations can be screened and tested and finally made commercially available. Plus, the process doesn't always work or the final result is a rose not worth patenting.

Mary points out that the rose business has rapidly changed with online buying making international purchases as easy as shopping at the local flower stores once was. But then she says the city she and John came back to 33 years ago has also changed. "I remember when we first drove into town, John saw a population sign for Pleasanton that read 3,000. It was also known as the small town with the most bars. There are a lot more people living here now, including where we used to grow roses, but fewer bars, which is just fine with us."

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