Longtime Claremonter has love affair with trees

When Margaret Boggess was born in the Pomona Valley in 1913, the now highly populated area was a landscape of lemon and orange trees. It would be a draw that kept her calling the region home for the rest of her life.

Even at 98, the citrus groves continued importance in her life was palpable last week as she rested near a window of her north Claremont home, eating quarters of an orange.

Ms. Boggess and her late husband built their lives around these groves, and the trees that residents have come to know about Claremont. Established in the 1940s, their company, Boggess & Rosenbrock Tree Service helped contribute to Claremont’s now-famous nickname the City of Trees.

Contemplating the view of the orange trees outside her historic home in North Claremont, Ms. Boggess relayed some of the tale of her nearly 99-year love affair with citrus and the City of Trees.

She grew up on her family’s dairy farm in Montclair with 5 acres of orange groves. The middle child of three, her 2 brothers helped on the farm, while she learned how to cook and bake at a young age with her mother, helping to feed all of the dairy workers and their families. She was particularly fond of making fruit pies, especially lemon.

“Sometimes I’d bake 2 or 3 pies at one time,” she said. Her early start is not lost on her grandchildren, who can vouch for nearly a century of pie-making practice. Her grandchildren can attest to her skills.

She met her late husband Clayton, at age 19. He had come from Iowa to visit his sister, who lived a block away from Ms. Boggess’ home. A year later they were married. After a brief stay in Iowa, the couple returned to the Pomona Valley, first moving to Montclair and shortly after establishing their home in north Claremont in 1946, where Clayton got a job working in the citrus industry. They rented, and later purchased, their home from the Towne family, for whom Towne Avenue is named.

The regional citrus industry declined in the 1940s and 50s, making way for residential development, according to Ms. Boggess’, who said the pair started brainstorming new ways to make their money.

“The citrus business was looking like it was going to go out, so we began looking for something else to do,” she said.

As a result, they came up with B & R Tree Service. It was established in 1946 with the goal of maintaining both citrus and residential trees.

Ms. Boggess’ was initially kept busy answering phones and feeding the hungry workers who would line up at her house every day.

“There would be half a dozen men sprawled out in my kitchen, waiting for breakfast,” she said.

After her husband’s death, however, Ms. Boggess’ took over the family business on her own, a leadership role that was not easy for a woman at the time.

Her grandchildren recalled a tale about a banker and 2 men in town that took bets on how long it would take her to fail at running B & R. It wasn’t her only struggle with acceptance as a female business owner.

“One day I answered the phone and a woman said, “May I please speak to someone who knows something?” Ms. Boggess said. She was unfazed by the woman’s comments. “I said, ‘Well why don’t you try me.’”

This resolute demeanor helped her business continue to thrive in years to come, despite the challenges.

“We had a good business. We were generally booked up 2 or 3 weeks in advance for tree work and that was pretty good,” she said.

Under her guidance, B & R Tree Service was influential in clearing trees for the Mt. Baldy ski lift, foundational tree work for the Claremont Colleges and arguably for much of the beloved tree work that exists in Claremont to date.  

She retired the business in 1979, and though she has enjoyed traveling the globe after her retirement, took to enjoying many travels, her true interest remains at the forefront, according to granddaughter Maggie McNeill.

“When you look at her travel pictures, there is not a picture of her in there. She always took pictures of flowers and fields and farms,” Ms. McNeill said. “You can definitely see where her heart was.”

Her mindset continues today. With the care of Ms. McNeill and other relatives, Ms. Boggess continues to live in her north Claremont home. She still appreciates the simple joys from some of the original citrus trees, which continue to thrive, the orchards symbolic of the triumphs she continues to reap.

“She is as classic all-American as apple pie,” Ms. McNeill said. “She is hardworking, devoted to her family, kind-hearted and into simple pleasures. She’s not going to let anything get her down.”

—Beth Hartnett 


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