August 25, 2019

Beate Jensen: Rooting for Retirement

Beate Jensen, cultural resources manager at Gari Melchers Home and Studio at Belmont, who retires this month after 20 years on the job. Photo by Suzanne Rossi.

Beate Jensen, cultural resources manager at Gari Melchers Home and Studio at Belmont, who retires this month after 20 years on the job. Photo by Suzanne Rossi.

Beate Jensen ’99 has gardened in just about every climate. Born and raised in Norway, she married a Marine stationed in Scotland and scattered seeds far and wide as they moved from Hawaii to Spain and everywhere in between. But it wasn’t until she came to Fredericksburg in 1996 that she began planting roots.

“I went to the library one day and copied down addresses for every college in Virginia. I requested course catalogs and read each one with care,” Jensen said. “Mary Washington’s historic preservation program caught my eye, and I haven’t looked back since.”

Jensen’s commitment to research landed her the job of cultural resources manager at Gari Melchers Home and Studio (GMHS) at Belmont, a position she’s retiring from this month after 20 years. She’s done everything, from controlling pests in the garden to pestering contractors to follow her guidelines. She and her staff keep the Stafford County estate looking just as it did when American Impressionist painter Gari Melchers and wife Corinne lived there in the early 1900s – but for 21st-century visitors to enjoy.

Along the way, Jensen earned a master’s degree in library science, spurring her to record the building and landscape features into Belmont’s collections management system. Aided by the Garden Club of Virginia and other grants and gifts, her work to restore the Melchers’ home and grounds has earned accolades, including Stafford County Historical Commission’s annual Historic Preservation Award.

“Fulfilling Corinne Melchers’ wish for Belmont to serve as a memorial to her husband and a park for local residents has been a labor of love,” Jensen said. “And I cannot stress enough that this has been a team effort – my staff is the most dedicated group of professionals you can find.”

 

Beate Jensen, with her standard poodle, Tommi, at Belmont. Photo by Suzanne Rossi.

Beate Jensen, with her standard poodle, Tommi, at Belmont. Photo by Suzanne Rossi.

Q: What’s your favorite GMHS project?
A: The conclusion of each garden restoration project, no matter how large or small, is always satisfying. But I’m particularly proud of saving the Fannie Roots House [a historic cottage that was home to the civil rights activist by the same name]. I was recognized by Stafford County in 2011 for this project, but I’ve always felt the award should have gone to David Ludeker, [Belmont building and grounds assistant], as his skills and hard work prevented this building from being torn down. It’s a treasure – an outstanding example of post-Civil War vernacular architecture that rarely survives today.

Q: Do you have any favorite plants that the Melchers also enjoyed?
A: It’s been fun researching and bringing back old root stock roses that they grew in their garden.

Q: What’s your advice for novice gardeners?
A: Don’t create too many flower beds. Keep things simple by planting a variety of evergreen and flowering shrubs. Use mulch and clean up the garden in the fall to save yourself time and energy in the spring.

Q: What are your retirement plans?
A: My husband, Ken, who I met here in Virginia, and I are moving to Vermont, near my daughter’s farm. We’ll be just a few minutes from the mountains where I’ll get to hike with my dogs and go fishing.

Q: What’s your motto?
A: If it doesn’t feel good, you aren’t doing it right.