It is with great sorrow I share the sad message that a significant force within BSF passed away July 7. Shortly after attending our semi-annual Board meeting as District 7 Trustee in January, Michael Knowlton was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Mike served as trustee for several years, then became BSF President in 2013. During his five year tenure as President, he championed initiatives that included a commemorative book featuring convention exhibit trees and headliner artists, negotiated favorable conditions at the Florida Hotel, which has been the beautiful site for our conventions since 2014. He was instrumental in putting the Florida Bonsai Magazine into digital format, and through diplomacy and hard work fostered harmony and a sense of belonging with all BSF member societies. He led BSF’s Visiting Artist Program for many years, and coordinated the huge task of a joint convention for the 50th Anniversary of ABS in 2017. Michael was an admired and respected leader in every sense of the word.
Mike and his wife, Lunetta, were very involved in showing their beloved bonsai. They transported them, and other trees from Florida, to Bill Valavanis’ US National Bonsai Exhibition in Rochester, to Miami’s Komorebi, to the BSF Annual Convention, to Epcot, and to the Sho Fu annual exhibits. The importance they placed on exhibiting trees culminated in a club-wide effort to prepare a Sho Fu owned raintree forest composition for the National Bonsai and Penjing Collection in Washington DC. For well over a year, all members were encouraged to participate in the preparations, which also offered great teaching opportunities. As a retired school superintendent, sharing and promoting knowledge was of key importance to Mike. These efforts paid off when the tree was awarded Best Tropical at the U.S Bonsai National Exhibition in 2018. Subsequently, the forest had outgrown its space in the Permanent Exhibit at Marie Selby Botanical Gardens (Sarasota), so the Knowltons bought the composition from Sho Fu, only to turn around and donate it to the Chicago Botanical Gardens, where it flourishes to this day.
As Sho Fu President, Mike was able to transform a generous bequest of long-time member Joel Fedder into a revenue stream that has enabled the club (my club) to support the Permanent Bonsai Exhibit housed at Selby Gardens, as well as an education program fund. In fact, Mike was the driving force in the creation of the Sho Fu owned and curated Permanent Exhibit at Selby Gardens. Michael lived to fulfill the mission of all our bonsai societies to further the art of bonsai through exposing, teaching, and mentoring. He taught classes at Wigert’s Bonsai Nursery, gave numerous presentations for Sho Fu and other clubs as well as the BSF convention, and took people who showed an interest in the art under his wing to grow their appreciation of bonsai. He did everything together with Lunetta, who was always at his side, chaired numerous exhibits, and helped support his mission. Mike left an indelible impression on all who knew him, and on the face of Florida bonsai.
I personally will miss Michael greatly. On behalf of the entire BSF Board, we offer our sympathy and sincere condolences to Lunetta and the loving family he has left behind. A Celebration of Michael’s Life will take place on July 29 at 11am, St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, 508 Riviera St., Venice FL
Kathrin Harris, BSF President