Diesel mechanic John Mirgon looked awkward in a coat and tie. They weren't as comfortable as the blue jumpsuits his wife shortened to fit his frame.
Yet he knew he had to dress the part when he spoke at conferences on water lily gardening. In a field dominated by wealthy patrons and exacting breeders, he was one of its most passionate hobbyists and organizers.
Mr. Mirgon died July 7 of emphysema at his Denver home. He was 79.
"In my estimation he will be remembered as one of the premier water gardeners of our time," says Joe Tomocik, water gardens curator at the Denver Botanic Gardens. "He found a place working with the nurseries and those in academics."
Mr. Mirgon was born in Cascade, Idaho, on April 4, 1926, the son of Charles Mirgon and Goldie Eaton Mirgon. In 1949, after a move to Denver, Mr. Mirgon became a diesel mechanic, working on truck engines.
On Oct. 24 that same year, he married a certified nurse's aide, Mary De Groot. The couple's daughter, Jean, was born Nov. 17, 1953. Although he contracted emphysema in the 1970s as a result of his work, he did not retire until 1987.
He built his first water garden out of a square galvanized tub, says his wife, Mary Mirgon, inspired by a water feature he had seen as a child.
To learn more, he and his wife attended a pivotal class taught by Tomocik at the botanic gardens in 1983. After the class, Mr. Mirgon stepped forward to found the Colorado Water Garden Society, serving as its first president.
Armed with only an eighth-grade education, he wrote to Kew Gardens in Great Britain for advice on starting such an organization and was told that his society would be the first in the world. Later he, garden author Gordon Ledbetter and Charles Thomas of Lilypons water gardening company launched the International Waterlily and Water Gardening Society.
Through the society, Mr. Mirgon introduced himself to hybridizers and growers all over the world, Tomocik says. Australian hybridizer Charlie Winch named a tropical water lily after Mr. Mirgon and one after his wife. In 1990, Mr. Mirgon was inducted into the International Waterlily and Water Gardening Society's Hall of Fame.
He was a member of the International Brotherhood of Machinists for 32 years and a member of the Denver Orchid Society for 26 years.
Mr. Mirgon is survived by his wife, Mary, of Denver; his daughter, Jean Mirgon Pope, and son-in-law, Jim Pope, of Greeley; and two grandchildren. A graveside funeral service was held Monday at Chapel Hill Cemetery in Littleton. Contributions in his memory can be made to Hospice of St. John, 1320 Everett Court, Lakewood, CO 80215.
By Cyndie Thomas