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Orchid Gems




The World is an Adventure - Christie and John Jennings

By: Pam Horter-Moore

You can’t go any place in the world and guarantee that you won’t find Christie and John Jennings there. Whether by land or sea, they have logged thousands of miles traveling far and wide. “Taking a 42-day cruise is not like taking a one- or two-week vacation. Your fellow passengers become more than strangers; we made good friends from around the world,” John remarks.

The Jennings married late in life -- she was 43 and he was 50. Since then, they haven’t let the grass grow under their feet. That’s not saying that they didn’t lead exciting lives before that.

In high school, John was attracted to commercial aviation, meteorology, and architecture. He finally chose architecture, and worked for a private firm before becoming an architect for the City of Pittsburgh. John retired as Chief of The Bureau of Building Inspection. John said, “I supervised 75 employees and was responsible for the life safety requirements of every building and property within the City of Pittsburgh. It was a 24/7 job.”

Christie’s career took a U-turn. Although she began studying engineering at Virginia Tech, a stint of volunteering for the disabled on a camping trip changed her focus. She then entered WVU to study therapeutic recreation for special populations, and spent the first years of her career in Charleston, West Virginia. She returned to Pittsburgh to work for the City’s Department of Parks and Recreation, eventually becoming a Supervisor in the Senior Program.

It was during the renovation of one of her senior centers that she met John, who was the architect for the project. They have been married for 17 years. “Our marriage works because we love and respect each other,” John comments. “We were fortunate to retire early at 52 and 58 years old, and we have enjoyed every minute of it together.”

Retirement gave the Jennings a chance to travel more broadly. “Years ago, we took a land-and-sea cruise to Alaska. After that, we were on mailing lists to receive other opportunities to travel.” The motivation behind a 42-day South Pacific Island cruise was simple: They finally had the time to fulfill John’s dream of going to Bora Bora and Christie’s dream of going to Hawaii.

A unique port of call was remote Fanning Island, which has no electricity or running water, and where the main industry is the cultivation of seaweed.  Another trip was a six-week stay on the island of Lanzarote, one the Canary Islands noted for its volcanic landscapes. It is plain that the Jennings enjoy adventure as well as indolent luxury. They are enthusiasts of the cruising experience, but with a caveat: “We prefer smaller ships, 400 passengers rather than thousands on the larger ships. The crew gets to know you,” says John. “It is a more personal experience.”

Road trips aren’t out of the question. They put 11,000 miles on their car touring the United States and Canada on a 2-month adventure, where they visited over 25 national parks and monuments. “It was 130 degrees the day we toured Death Valley,” John remarks. They’ve seen every state but four, which they plan to visit in 2023.

One trip, which took an unexpected turn, was their attempt to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine.  They set out for their 6-8 month venture on Valentine ’s Day of 2019 but, after 2 weeks of almost constant rain and near-freezing temperatures, reconceptualized their vision.  They opted for the14-State Challenge instead, hiking portions of the trail in each state the AT passes through, a much more sensible approach, in their minds.

When the Jennings aren’t traveling, they still don’t stop. When they were single, she traveled when time allotted, and he had his “toys” -- a sailboat on the Great Lakes and airplanes with a flying club at the Allegheny County Airport. The toys have been replaced as the zest for travel seized them. “I still maintain my pilot’s license,” John comments, although he seldom flies. He loves astronomy and, as a ham radio operator, has joined an international network of fellow enthusiasts.

Christie enjoys beading, and submitted one of her beaded bracelets for competition at the City ARTWorks competition held annually by the City of Pittsburgh to showcase the talent of Pittsburgh employees, family members and retirees. John took home prizes in past years for his photography, but Christie took home the big one in 2022. “I entered the contest primarily in support of the Department of Parks & Recreation,” Christie states. “I never thought I’d win First Place.”

The Jennings volunteer at the Little Sisters of the Poor, a city-based branch of an international congregation of Roman Catholic religious women caring for the elderly poor. They participate in the Meat Drop held in December, the rummage sale in July and various activities throughout the year. Christie also helps with make ceramics for their fundraisers, and John even plays Santa Clause to help celebrate the season.

Like so many OSWP members, the Jennings have an interest in gardening. Christie has always been a plant person, but never grew orchids until she “married into them.”

John explains. “In 1980, I was gifted an orchid after the firm had moved into a new building.”  Even though his first results weren’t as rewarding as he had hoped, his interest was piqued.

Now, most of Christie’s and John’s 45 orchids grow on a large southeast-facing bay window in the master bedroom, a colorful collection largely of Phalaenopsis and Cattleyas, one of which dates back to 1980.

The Jennings enjoy rescuing orchids. “If you treat them right, they will rebloom,” Christie states confidently. “And, if a plant should die, it makes room for a new plant.”

John is a native Pittsburgher, raised in what is popularly known as Green Tree City. Christie was born in New York, but grew up in Pleasant Hills. They are living in the house where John grew up, but have added a significant addition to make room for their many interests, as well as for opportunities to entertain.

The Jennings joined OSWP at the March 2020 Orchid Show, which occurred just before the Covid restrictions. Since May, they have participated in Pfun at Phipps, the collaboration between OSWP and Phipps’ Conservatory, learning from Giovanny and from other OSWP volunteers. “It’s an experience where you discover that there is a lot of room for discussion,” says John. No one method works for everyone, and everyone encounters different challenges when growing orchids.

One of the great challenges for the Jennings is balancing their passion for travel with the needs of their collection. “It’s hard to find dependable help who will adequately care for your collection while you are away,” John comments. A lot of orchid growers would agree with him on this one.  

Perhaps one of the reasons why there is so much room for discovery is that every orchid challenge requires a uniquely creative solution.

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