Every spring, hundreds of people stop by Jerry and Helen Unruh's Odessa home to admire and marvel at the cacophony of color they have tucked into less than two acres of land. Right now, the blooms are at their peak and are expected to last a couple of more weeks.
Located on the northbound side of U.S. Route 13, just south of the Main Street red light that takes you to either Middletown or Odessa, sits a quaint little white house where Jerry and Helen Unruh have lived since 1976. Most of the year, they live quietly – almost anonymously – until spring arrives, at least.
But, then, it happens. The Unruh property, just one and one-quarter acres in all, explodes in a cacophony of color thanks to more than 1,000 azalea bushes that the couple has been tending to for more than 35 years.
And, then the people start showing up in droves, too, many of them roaming the property, taking pictures and marveling over what over what they see. The Unruhs don't mind, though. In fact, they welcome people to stop by anytime.
"We don't mind at all," Helen remarked about all the strangers who wander aimlessly through her yard. "If people like them and want to look at them, they can. Everybody is welcome."
For her husband's part, he can't seem to remember when people started stopping by, but he understands the pull to do it, saying that he would want to see the blooms, too.
"I look forward to this time of year every spring," said Jerry. "You can't beat the view Mother Nature provides, right?"
When pressed for the history of how his massive azalea garden came to be, Jerry explained that during his time in the military, he wound up fighting in the Battle of the Bulge where the snow would get so thick and heavy, day-to-day activities would come to a standstill.
"I used to love winter and everything that came with it," Jerry said. "But, by the time the war was over and I was back, I hated winter so much. So, I decided to plant something that would welcome spring in and kick old man winter in the backside."
He started with just a few plants in 1952, just a year after he finished up construction on his house. Between his work and all his responsibilities, he felt he had more than enough azalea bushes. But, then, in 1974, while on a trip to Switzerland, he met Helen. They're courtship lasted two years, culminating with a wedding on May 15, 1976 in her home state of New York.
"When we got married, he had 85 bushes. I just loved them and asked him if we could plant more," Helen said. "He told me that he thought he had more than he could handle but I told him that I would help."
Now, the couple tends to 1,690 azalea bushes.
"We're out here all the time," Helen said. "At first, it was more of a hobby. But, it's grown into more than that now."
Still, she finds the work rewarding, adding that she lives for the springtime. "The view never gets old," Helen said. "It's just breath-taking."
Unfortunately, Helen said that the view doesn't last long, adding that they'll "have color for about a month."
But, while the color persists, people can stop by as often as they please. The couple can often be found outside, too, greeting everyone they can and talking shop on gardening, the weather or days gone by.
"Over the years, I only have one regret about all this," Jerry said as he took in the view of his and Helen's handiwork. "We should have had a registration book. People have come from all over-Europe, Hawaii, South America and Canada. Everywhere. Having a registration book all this time would have been great."