Horace Hagedorn died in his sleep on January 31 at age 89, but his legacy will continue to enrich our lives for generations to come.
It seems as if there is no good cause or community event in Port Washington and environs that does not count Horace and Amy Hagedorn among its sponsors. To name just a few, Residents for a More Beautiful Port Washington, the Port Washington Public Library, Landmark on Main Street, the Community Chest, the Helen Keller National Center, the John Philip Sousa Memorial Band Shell, Long Island Cares, North Shore University Hospital, Family and Children's Association, North Shore Child and Family Guidance Center, WLIW21, and Hofstra and Adelphi Universities. A complete list of the individuals and organizations that have benefited from Hagedorn's generosity would fill many pages. Horace (as everyone knew him) and his wife Amy were interested primarily in supporting environmental issues, children and families, education, and health. They founded Sustainable Long Island, a nonprofit organization devoted to advancing the economy, environment and equity in communities from Montauk to Elmont. In the mid 1980s, the Hagedorn family charitable fund created Miracle-Gro Kids, a program that provided 50 fifth-grade low-income students with tutoring, counseling, and after-school cultural enrichment, and promised full tuition to a New York City or New York State University if they graduated high school. The program was later extended to Columbus, Ohio.
Community leaders remembered Horace with love and gratitude. Myron Blumenfeld, founder and Chairman Emeritus of Residents for a More Beautiful Port Washington pointed to the trees along Port Washington Boulevard and Main Street, the planting of which Hagedorn funded. "The trees and the plaques with Latin and common names are a memorial to him and to Miracle-Gro," said Blumenfeld. "He left a wonderful legacy here in Port Washington, not excluding other things and other places." Phyllis Joseph, general manager of Landmark said, "The Hagedorns have been good supporters of Landmark. They are very, very, generous and kind. Amy and Horace Hagedorn were instrumental in funding the beautiful garden with umbrellas and tables where residential tenants can sit summer, spring and fall, and where Landmark hosts lovely parties and receptions." Both Residents and Landmark honored Hagedorn at their annual gala, in 2001 and 2002, respectively, as did the Family and Children's Association in 2005 and Helen Keller National Center in 1999. The Community Chest selected him for the Citizen of the Year award in 1999. Nancy Curtin, Port Washington library director, said that the Hagedorns have made substantial contributions to the Library Foundation over the years. Community groups regularly take advantage of the Hagedorn meeting room on the third floor of the library. The Hagedorns' contribution this year was to support the Foundation by giving a matching grant of $25,000 in support of the library's arts programs. Nancy added that Horace, an avid sailor and very interested in nautical history, recently donated a ship model given to him by his children that had been in his office; it is prominently displayed in the library's reading room. She commented, "Horace was a regular library user, and we always enjoyed seeing him." She said that Port's library, as well as many others around the country, is a recipient of funding from the Family Place Library Project of Libraries for the Future, which was funded for $1 million by the Hagedorns. This project exposes young children and their parents to reading and educational play.
According to Amy Hagedorn, Horace's wife and his partner in philanthropy, he would most want to be remembered for his philanthropy and for his role in creating "the first garden brand that was internationally known." Hagedorn, who was in the advertising business, and Otto Stern, a nurseryman, co-founded Miracle-Gro, the popular plant food, in 1950 the time of the great migration from the city to the suburbs. The soluble plant food was developed by a Rutgers University professor, O. Wesley Davidson, an expert on raising orchids. Thanks in large part to Hagedorn's marketing skills the company grew rapidly and the brand became synonymous with plant food. David Salten of Port Washington, a friend of Horace's for many decades, said, "Many creative Americans have built large fortunes, but only a handful have matched Horace Hagedorn's achievement of creating an eponymous brand. Just as cameras of all types have been called Kodak and Xerox is a synonym for copying machines, Miracle-Gro is an eponym of plant foods in America and throughout the world. Horace Hagedorn was a marketing genius of historic stature." In 1995, Miracle-Gro merged with Scotts. Hagedorn took the proceeds from the sale to establish a charitable trust - The Horace and Amy Hagedorn Fund, which distributes funds through the Long Island Community Foundation, an arm of the New York Community Trust.
From that point on, Horace, working with Amy, devoted all his energies to philanthropic work, which he often said gave him a purpose in life. Horace had an oft-repeated slogan, "You can't keep taking the good stuff out of the earth; you have to put something back." The Hagedorns were hands-on givers, involving themselves in many of the organizations and causes that they supported, providing encouragement and advice where needed, attending events, and befriending those whom they have helped. Phyllis Joseph said, "When they adopt you, you become a dear friend."
Although Horace Hagedorn was a hard-driving businessman and philanthropist, he was also fun-loving. Amy described him as a "party animal." She said, "He liked to sing; he liked to dance; he loved women." Others remembered his sense of humor and the wonderful stories he told. Joseph said, "He was delightful, impish, always a smile, a joke, and a story." Curtin remembered "his spunk, his stories."
We knew Horace Hagedorn as an unpretentious man of simple tastes. He was variously depicted by friends and colleagues as "warm," "generous," "sincere," "modest," "caring," and "a dear person." He was remarkably accessible - when one called their home, it was always Horace or Amy who picked up the phone.
Last August, a documentary film honoring Horace Hagedorn entitled Meet Mr. Miracle-Gro premiered at Hofstra University. The impetus for the film came from Horace's six children, who originally planned to create a private cinematic tribute to their father for his 89th birthday. The family decided that Horace's story was fascinating enough to be released publicly. The proceeds from the premiere were used to benefit Sustainable Long Island, raising over $1.5 million. It later aired on PBS. The film was produced and directed by three-time Emmy award winner Ron Rudaitis, in collaboration with Hagedorn's daughter Susan. The documentary depicts all facets of Horace - his laudable and not-so-laudable traits as a businessman, an employer, a husband, a father, and a philanthropist. Nancy Curtin commented, "It's not sugar-coated. Horace liked that about the movie." Amy Hagedorn said that recently Horace had been working with Rudaitis and the Helen Keller Center to make a film about deafness. She said, "He was hard of hearing himself; and was particularly interested in cochlear implants." She added that the film will most likely still be made.
Amy and Horace Hagedorn were married in 1986. They met when he answered a personal ad she had placed. What "hooked" him," he told friends, were her references to a passion for sailing and for reading seed catalogues. Horace's first wife, Margaret, died in 1984.
According to Amy Hagedorn, Horace had suffered for a number of years from pulmonary hypertension. She said that he died peacefully in his sleep. She added, "Family and friends are celebrating his life rather than mourning." A memorial is planned for March; the details will be announced.
Horace Hagedorn moved to Port Washington from Manhattan in 1943. He is survived by sons James, Paul, Peter and Robert, and daughters Susan and Katherine (Littlefield), all of whom have been active in the Hagedorn family's philanthropic activities. James, who lives in Sands Point, is president and CEO of The Scotts Company. Katherine is a member of the board of directors of The Scotts Company and Susan is chairperson of the Scotts Miracle-Gro Foundation. Horace also leaves behind 22 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.