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Doyle Cummings, namesake for rose garden surfaces
Doyle Cumming roses
Doyle Cummings and wife Mary Williams were in Ceres last week after fleeing their house in the Caldor Fire. While staying with his son, the couple pruned roses at the Smyrna Park rose garden that has beared his name since the early 1970s. - photo by Jeff Benziger

Many a Ceres resident has spied the concrete monument sign noting the name attached to the rose garden at the northwest corner of Smyrna Park and wondered just who Doyle Cummings was. At least five decades have passed since the garden was planted at the corner of Moffet and Fowler roads and Cummings has remained an enigma.

Until recently when Doyle Cummings – no he didn’t die like lots of folks assumed – appeared with his wife.

Cummings, now 84, had to flee his home in Markleeville because of the conflagration of the Tamarack and Caldor fires. They were given 90 minutes to evacuate and they left with photos and other irreplaceable items and headed to his son’s home in Ceres. Their Alpine County home was spared by a couple of miles.

The couple felt restless and decided to roll up their sleeves and help pull weeds and prune roses in “his” garden. They also donated $500 to the city to replace rose plants.

“When we came down we said, ‘We have nothing to do; can’t take the boredom,’” said wife Mary.

On Wednesday, before they moved back in, they stopped at the garden one last time to do some finish-up pruning. He explained how his life path led to Ceres. Raised in Salida, through a mutual friend Doyle met Juanita Wyatt, daughter of Wyatt Wrecking Yard owner Cecil Wyatt of Ceres.  The two married and after a time living in San Jose moved to Kay Street in Ceres. Doyle coached baseball and basketball at Don Pedro Elementary School in the early 1970s. He saw an opening for the Ceres Planning Commission and was appointed. At the time the city had acquired the funds to buy and build Smyrna Park.

“I told somebody, ‘You know, it would be nice if we could get a little spot of land in that park and put in a rose garden,’” said Cummings. “I had just come back from British Columbia – Butchart Gardens – drop dead gorgeous country. The rose garden was unbelievable.”

He shared the idea and it took off. The Ceres Woman’s Club, Ceres Grange, Ceres High School and Ceres Planning Commission all helped raise funds.

“Everybody pitched in and little by little we put it together. People donated money and time. We got a lot of good help.”

He remembers the money to buy the rose plants came from beer sales at the Ceres Peach Festival.

“I got a little flak from that but other than they we got the money we needed to buy our roses.”

The sidewalks were poured by a Ceres concrete company. 

The garden was named after Cummings because he organized the effort.

Doyle and Juanita’s marriage ended after 35 years and eventually he moved away. He remarried Mary Williams, a San Francisco real estate agent.

Both were surprised to see a lot of weeds and roses in need of pruning. They pitched in pulling weeds and estimate that they pruned about 75 percent of the roses.

“Gardens take maintenance and see that’s one thing they don’t have,” said Doyle of the city. “They have a very limited amount of maintenance and so they just let things slide and pretty soon your weeds are this high.”

Cummings said he’s never felt healthier and stronger at age 84.

“I’m healthy as a horse. I can do everything today I could do at 40. I run. I live in the mountains. I own three chainsaws. I live off the grid. And I work. And the more I work the better I feel.”

1972 Cummings
Doyle Cummings in an early 1970s picture in the Courier.
roses being pruned
Doyle Cummings was busy last week pruning as many rose bushes that he could in Smyrna Park.