These are exciting times for the Ruth Mott Foundation! Their latest project – offering public tours of both the grounds as well as inside the home at Applewood Estate – debuted with an official Grand Opening ceremony and inaugural house tour on May 5, 2016. During that event, the Michigan Historical Commission honored Applewood by presenting the Charles Stewart Mott Estate with a historical marker. In 1979, Applewood was granted a listing on the National Register of Historic Places, but received another honor with the historical marker. After touring the grounds, Michigan Historical Commission President, Jack Dempsey, claimed that it is “self-evident” why Applewood deserved the historical marker.
Now that Applewood is a place where new memories can be made by anyone who visits, My City Magazine wanted to take a look back at some older and cherished memories of Applewood.
Daughter of C.S. Mott and Ruth Rawlings Mott, Maryanne Mott is the chair of the Ruth Mott Foundation Board of Trustees and member of the C.S. Mott Foundation Board of Trustees. She is a philanthropist, an art collector, and a rancher. With her late husband, Herman Warsh, she co-founded and is still an active board member of the C. S. Fund based in Freestone, CA. Now, as a Montana resident and rancher, Maryanne owns and manages B Bar Ranch, where they raise ancient White Park cattle and sell grass-fed and finished certified organic beef in Big Timber, and host non-profit groups in Tom Miner Basin.
“It’s fulfilling to celebrate my father’s life and leadership, and make great strides toward transforming Applewood into the public resource that my mother envisioned.”
But before all of her accomplishments, Maryanne was just another child, growing up in a loving and fun-filled home. “Among my happiest Applewood memories are summer holiday picnics on the back lawn with family and friends when the grounds were lush and beautiful, being taught by my mother to swim in the now decorative pool by my mother at the end of a broomstick, learning how to bake cakes and cookies – nothing else! – and helping shell peas when the harvest came in,” Maryanne shares. “I loved being outdoors and would tear home after school so I could play outside as long as possible. For this tomboy, Applewood was paradise.”
Applewood’s transformation – from a family home to one with its doors open for all families to visit – has been an organic learning process, as described by Maryanne. “Initially, we offered a range of test programs, sought feedback, and made adjustments,” she says. “With the Ruth Mott Foundation’s recently completed strategic plan, which involved far more extensive and broad community engagement in discussing residents’ priorities, we have gained even more guidance on how best to make Applewood serve and support community priorities. Throughout the process, we’ve been committed to making sure our priorities align with what the community wants.”
Now that the home has been opened for tours, it will enhance the public’s sense of history in the community. “The veil of mystery will be lifted,” Maryanne says. “Applewood will no longer be imagined, but seen, and visitors will feel more connected to Flint and its rich heritage.”
After Ruth Mott passed away in 1999, the Ruth Mott Foundation opened the grounds for public tours and the work began to preserve the house. With the estate, Ruth Mott wanted to commemorate her husband’s contributions to Flint and the automotive industry. For Maryanne, watching her mother’s vision come to fruition has been both aspirational and fulfilling. “It’s aspirational because we’ve set out to achieve a lofty goal,” she says. “It’s fulfilling because we’ve been able to open the grounds even more, open the house for the first time, celebrate my father’s life and leadership, and make great strides toward transforming Applewood into the public resource that my mother envisioned.”
As for the future of her family’s estate, Maryanne hopes it continues to be a welcoming place. “I hope Applewood becomes a place where people from all parts of our community feel comfortable and welcome,” she shares. “Where they have fun together. Where their knowledge is expanded, where learning is a joy, and where it is safe and productive to address difficult issues of community life.”
Another memory of Applewood and the Mott family is from a different perspective. Deb Elliott, the Director of Estate Operations for the Ruth Mott Foundation, has worked at the estate since 1979, and recalls her first day as an intern. “What I remember best is that petunias were planted around the pool and terrace and throughout the perennial garden,” Deb says. “To keep them in bloom, the spent flowers had to be removed. I spent hours each week with sticky fingers from deadheading; but they looked beautiful.”
Deb fondly remembers conversations with Ruth Mott about the gardens and greenhouses and special bouquets to be sent to friends or family members celebrating a special occasion. Deb soon realized that working with Mrs. Mott would be very rewarding. “Imagine the kind of opportunity it was for me, an aspiring horticulturist from Michigan State University, to find Applewood undergoing revitalization,” says Deb. “I just knew this was the place to be. Mrs. Mott appreciated all of the effort it took to beautify the estate. She truly delighted in each flower and loved sharing Applewood with others. She always passed along compliments she received from guests and made all of us who worked for her feel valued and part of a family. And she was gracious and had a great sense of humor. I miss her every day!”
Even though Applewood’s grounds have been open for various events, Deb has witnessed firsthand the plans for Applewood to grow and change. “When I started in 1979, much of the estate was overgrown and wild, except for the landscape right around the house,” she explains. “I saw the transformation as Applewood’s former beauty was revealed. While the same plants were not necessarily used, the footprint and spirit of the original design were honored. The heritage apple orchard was the exception. We still have the same 29 varieties that Mr. Mott selected and grew.”
In addition to influencing her career, Ruth Mott certainly influenced Deb’s personal growth. “She had several sayings on pieces of paper taped to her mirror,” Deb says. “One of them was, ‘Listening is the beginning of understanding.’ She had a way of making people feel special by really listening to what they had to say. Because of her example, I try to listen and put myself in the other person’s place to better understand their choices.”
Photography by Eric Dutro & Provided By the Ruth Mott Foundation Archives, Flint