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A century of stories, gardening, friendship

Esther Grant was a member of Hyde Park United Methodist and past president of the Old Fashioned Garden Circle.

By JAY CRIDLIN
© St. Petersburg Times
published October 25, 2002


BAYSHORE BEAUTIFUL -- Times in Depression-era Ohio were so tough that Esther Grant and her husband, the Rev. Willard W. Grant, had to can and freeze rabbit meat for the winter.

Always, though, they made sure to donate plenty of meat and cans of peas and green beans to local churches and hospitals.

With Mrs. Grant, "everything was so interesting and always so cheerful," said friend Betty Norman. "She was just such a delightful, interesting person."

Mrs. Grant, a longtime member of Hyde Park United Methodist Church and past president of the Old Fashioned Garden Circle in Tampa, died Oct. 18, just a month shy of 102.

She loved reading and was a great storyteller, say her friends and relatives.

"Esther had a unique way of expressing herself that was just fascinating," said Virginia Getch, who had known Mrs. Grant for decades.

"She was a very knowledgeable person. She remembered people and remembered things about people. She cared about people."

Esther Ebersbach was born and raised in Northeast Ohio. She was an English major at Ohio Wesleyan University, where she met her future husband, Willard Grant, who would become a minister.

The two lived in rural Ohio until 1954, when the death of her parents, who had moved to Florida, prompted the move to Tampa. Esther wanted to be closer to her sister, Dorothy.

"She went through quite a bit," Dorothy Ebersbach said. "But she enjoyed her life, and she had a real good wit."

Mrs. Grant had been active in a gardening club in Ohio and continued her hobby with the Old Fashioned Garden Circle, one of Tampa's oldest gardening clubs. She served in several administrative roles, including president and secretary, and was often charged with penning the group's annual history.

"Everything that she would write, the history that she would write for that year, it was just so entertaining," Norman said. "She was a wonderful writer."

Her husband died in 1969, and she kept busy by regaling the group with stories about life and her own experiences. Her sister remembers one of Mrs. Grant's favorite fables, about being bilingual:

"This cat was walking down the street with her three kittens, and they met this dog who barked at them. The cat barked back, and he ran off. She turned to her kittens and said, 'Now that's the value of a second language!' "

Her flowers, mostly hibiscus, won many ribbons and prizes at local garden shows.

Mrs. Grant suffered a disabling stroke in 1999, but she kept active when she could. Her sister would take her wheelchair to Garden Circle meetings and Sunday School at Hyde Park United Methodist Church.

"Even after her stroke, you would go to see her, and she would be so happy to see you, so interested in everything and everybody," Norman said.

Mrs. Grant was ahead of her time, a member of the progressive American Association of University Women. She also loved pets, from her English setters and Boston terriers to the one or two cats she always had around the house.

Nov. 5 would have been her 102nd birthday, and the Old Fashioned Garden Circle had planned a celebration for her.

Already, the group had voted to present an annual award in her honor: the Esther Grant Artistic Craft Trophy, a silver trophy to be awarded every year at the Tampa Federation Spring Flower Show.

"She was very gracious," Getch said.

Mrs. Grant was preceded in death by her husband, the Rev. Willard W. Grant, and her parents, Charles and Ella Ebersbach. She is survived by her sister, Dorothy Ebersbach.

-- Staff writer Jay Cridlin can be reached at 226-3374 or cridlin@sptimes.com.

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