My late, great dad would always say, “Jimmy, leave the world a little better than you found it.”

Yes, you can snicker—I was a Jimmy.

That statement was gospel according to one of Dayton’s most honored and respected citizens—the late Jean Woodhull. She not only lived by those words, but delivered the end results big time and we are all better for it. Her legacy lives on now and for generations to come. 

Jean Woodhull was born in 1920 in Middletown, Ohio. She was the daughter of Elizabeth and Calvin Verity, and the granddaughter of George M. Verity, who founded Armco Steel, now AK Steel Holding Company—still in Middletown by the way. 

She attended school in Cincinnati, Connecticut and New York, marrying James M. Woodhull of Dayton in 1943. And it’s a good thing, too, because we were blessed to have her here.

Jean had an immense joy of life, a lively sense of humor and a huge curiosity about all around her, especially the great outdoors and her garden. She was the “green thumb” of the Miami Valley.

Jean had a contagious love of horticulture and garden design, sharing her expertise and her plants with anyone and everyone. Her garden, a true labor of love, is recorded in the Archives of American Gardens at the Smithsonian Institute. How ‘bout that?

Jean was green before the word became cool. 

She devoted her many talents to the causes we should all care about: protecting the environment, providing incredible opportunities for young people, respecting and honoring Mother Nature, and supporting the town she lived in, Dayton. 

Jean was a go-getter and rarely remained stationary. She was a founding member of Cox Arboretum and served as president of the Montgomery County Board of Park Commissioners. She led the development of Riverscape and was a founding supporter of Muse Machine. 

And in 94 short years, Jean accrued many awards for which she asked for no credit. 

How about this laundry list of a life?

Jean received an Outstanding Civic Achievement Award from the Garden Club of America, the Outstanding Citizen Award from Ohio Parks and Recreation, as well as being a member of the exclusive Dayton’s Top Ten Women club in 2005. 

Also in 2005 she was inducted into Dayton’s Walk of Fame. Some say she was de-weeding in the area before accepting her award. That’s our Jean.

She was gardening and cheerleading for the community and region, giving of her time until declining health took its toll. We lost Jean this past January at age 94, but like thousands of others, I will never look at a plant the same way again.

And the lives she touched will forever remain inspired.

Personally I remember meeting Jean on garden tours I promoted while at WDTN Channel 2. She would always say hello and, when prompted, share a great story or two.

Some of my Facebook friends remember her fondly, too.

Beverly writes, “I met Jean during the Riverscape planning stages. She was adamant early on [that] the area would be peppered with plants, blooming flowers, shrubs and trees. Admire her work the next time you visit there. It is all Jean.”

Kevin adds, “Jean was a true inspiration. When paying a visit to her wonderful garden, my wife and I would ‘steal’ ideas for our own garden. She paid it forward in many ways, never seeking the limelight.”

“Jean was a visionary in her own quiet way,” says Marion. “At planning meetings Jean would quietly listen to others speak, form an opinion and speak her mind. [And] not in a TV news talk show format where everyone is screaming to get their voice heard. But 100 percent of the time, no joke, Jean was right on target. We need more Jean Woodhulls here in town. Could you imagine what the face of Dayton would look like then?” 

Bob was amazed at what one person can do. “You know they say it takes a village, but not with Jean. She was the mayor, city manager, council people and the population of the village, too. When she spoke people listened, not in a condescending way, never. You respected her opinion because she got things done. Not much of talker, but a doer. And look around at what she left us. Actions speak louder as they say.” 

Brady Kress, president and CEO of Dayton History had some final thoughts. 

“The world will miss Jean. You knew exactly how she felt about any project in the works, and her advice was always on track. [She was] just a great visionary who loved Dayton and Ohio. Her most recent quest involved the planting of daffodils; the people that knew her well, will never be able to look at one again without thinking of Jean Woodhull,” Brady says. 

Jean was quoted recently in her typical humble demeanor: “...always do a good job and then tell others that someone else did it.” 

Her love, passion and energy for our city and region will never be replaced, 

But in Jean’s memory we can volunteer our time, get involved, pick up some discarded trash, plant a tree and, by all means, pull up those pesky weeds. Matter of fact, in writing this column, I realized that I need to do just that in my backyard.

See Jean, you’re rubbing off on me. Cheers to Jean Woodhull!