Meet the Member

Submitted By: Norma Raiff

Actor, Singer, Businesswoman, Orchid Lover, Friend of Phipps, President Extraordinaire. That’s Demetria Marsh, who all of us know in at least one capacity or other.

Demetria’s in her third term as OSWP president. That is a record that few can imagine or would be willing to do. First elected as President in the early 1990’s, she was co- President with Bill Kalupanov for her second term, and accepted the office again this past June.

This gracious woman brings to her role a background in acting, running an entrepreneurial business, forging relationships, and bringing up great new ideas. Her natural excitement and curiosity are infectious. Many long-term members associate their first encounters with the OSWP as involving Demetria and her late husband Bud Mellott. Although they ran a small advertising agency, they met as actors. Their good nature and inventiveness ran the gamut from hosting informal dinners with speakers (who can forget “Souper Sunday” on a namesake weekend where they recreated an Eat ‘n Park atmosphere by hanging labels over the numerous soup pots) to creating the Phalaenopsis Phollies – an original musical that celebrated orchids and orchid growing through rewritten popular songs. First enjoyed when OSWP celebrated its 30th anniversary (1984), the Phollies went through several iterations and was last mounted at the Super Slipper Celebration (2013).

Brien Marsh, Demetria’s husband, supports her long-standing hobby in different ways. For example, Brien designed an innovative basement growing area for the large collection of orchids that traveled with her into the marriage. It included a pool and pump that allowed her to collect water (even though that meant watering plants in a carpeted area). Like Demetria, Brien enjoys the arts and being involved. He’s served as President of the New Hazlett Theater in the North Side and is currently on their condominium Board. We all know about Pfun at Phipps: a monthly group where OSWPers help to repot and to assist at Phipps Conservatory. While many members have contributed to the program’s success, Demetria propelled it. Al- though Phipps and the OSWP enjoyed a strong relationship in our early years -- our first meetings (1954) were held at Phipps and its Director was on the OSWP board, the relationship had waned. This was partly due to the fact Phipps then operated under the City of Pittsburgh and funds and workers were limited. Eventually, the orchid collection deteriorated.

Thanks to Demetria’s recognition of the symbiotic relationship that could be nurtured between OSWP and Phipps, a new era of relationship building began. Our “second time around” began in 1990 when OSWP volunteered to repot Phipps’ entire collection. This intensive effort took some 3-4 years. We repotted and organized the collection, paid for and installed fans, and suggested shading in the old green house. Together, Phipps and OSWP mounted the Super Slipper Celebration that featured important speakers, a Phollies presentation, and the naming of the Barbara Tisherman Slipper Orchid Collection.

So let’s turn to Demetria’s collection and memories:
Current collection: Brien and Demetria are now living downtown with a gorgeous view of the Three Rivers. However, as Demetria puts it, "I’m in a new growing environment.” Along with having to downsize her collection, she has now become an accomplished windowsill and terrarium grower. (“Thank you Dave Miller and Carolyn Bolton for your tutoring”.) She currently has some 50 plants, six of which are in bloom (half on the windowsill; half terrarium grown). As your might have easily guessed, Demetria’s favorite plants are Phrags followed by Paphs.

Funniest/weirdest mistake or important experience:
The Georgetown Inn OSWP Fiasco!
Here is what happened: One Saturday evening the Raiffs and Bud picked up well-known Paph breeder, Norito Hasegawa, at the airport. But, uh oh, when we all got out to greet our Society’s honored guest, Bud inadvertently locked the key in the car. So there we were, marooned! Our bad luck continued. We then went to see Demetria who was acting in a show (unfortunately we missed the play’s first act due to our Bud-made accident) and then went to a late dinner at the Georgetown Inn. However, it was time for an encore. The Inn’s valet service also locked the keys in Demetria’s car, occasioning another long wait before she could drive Norito home. These twin incidents impressed Norito so much that he always reminisced about it when speaking at meetings and like occasions. Oh those beloved, klutzy Pittsburghers!

A nice coincidence:
At our 2014 Spring Show, Carolyn Bolton overheard Marion Wike say to friends that she had previously been a long-term OSWP member and that she had just moved back to Pittsburgh and lived in a downtown condominium. “With that, Carolyn ran back to the kitchen and updated me. Someone is here who lives in your building!” Following introductions, Marion rejoined the society. It also turned out that she lives three floors above Demetria. “Today we are good friends and help each other with our orchids.”

Final advice: “Get involved. The Orchid Society has been an amazing adventure of learning about orchids and people and friends, and you get the most out of this by actively participating as a member. When you think about it, some of our friends have stayed with us through all the good times and bad times. It’s a time for laughing, crying, eating, sharing recipes, and sharing friendships.”

Amen to that! 

Demetria Marsh