Joan Floren's awe-inspiring flower gardens were a must-see that were routinely featured on tours. But she displayed her best work as a tireless volunteer who for years used her creativity and boundless energy to help nonprofits in the west metro.
Floren helped plan events and exhibits for the Dassel Area History Museum. She hosted galas for the National Lutheran Choir. She chaired plant sales, sold homemade jewelry and with her husband, David, led fundraising efforts for Interfaith Outreach and Community Partners' annual Sleep Out, an event during which people camp in backyards and sleep in cars to raise money for the Plymouth-based organization that works to fight suburban poverty.
"She was the kind of volunteer that every nonprofit dreams of," said LaDonna Hoy, Interfaith's founder and executive director emerita. "She was someone who had a heart for using extraordinary gifts to make the community better for everybody."
Following a battle with colon cancer, Floren died March 25 at her home in Wayzata. She was 67.
Floren grew up on a farm, where her mother taught her how to be a good cook and show love to others, David Floren said. She made salsas and sauces from scratch, knitted hats and scarves to sell, and every year sewed elaborate Halloween costumes for her children. A Miss Piggy costume was the "crown jewel," her husband said.
The elegant gowns she wore to holiday balls were often conversation stoppers when guests found out she made them, David Floren said. They aptly carried the label "Joan of All Trades," which described Joan Floren to a tee, according to those who knew her.
Never short of ideas, Floren stepped up when there was a job to do. Once, she and her team of helpers decorated a ballroom dinner for 650 guests in a couple of days on a shoestring budget.
"Who else would think to turn colorful paper lanterns upside down and fill them with even more colorful flowers for centerpieces?" said Tina Meckel, executive director of the National Lutheran Choir. "She brought her creativity and sense of beauty to everything she did, and it elevated our community."
Though she could be a "commanding general," her husband said, Floren was never afraid to pick up a paintbrush or run the cash register. For a wedding dress exhibit at the Dassel Area History Museum, Floren designed and cut out wooden heads.
"Joan was always willing to step in and help in many different ways," said museum Director Carolyn Holje. "She did a lot of digging in the dirt and serving coffee along with showing her artistic gifts and talents."
Gardening was Floren's passion. Busloads of people came to see the flowers and vegetables she grew in Wayzata. In recent years, Floren maintained a huge English garden at a lake home in Dassel, which was featured on the Meeker County Garden Tour, Holje said.
Floren sang in the choir at St. Philip the Deacon Lutheran Church in Plymouth and was a member of a women's study and fellowship group. Naturally, she spent countless hours maintaining the church's flower gardens and planting her favorites, dahlias.
"She was a faith-in-action person," said the Rev. Valerie Strand Patterson. "She was a beautiful person who brought beauty to the world."
Besides her husband of 38 years, Floren is survived by sister Judy MacManus of Sunfish Lake, daughter Jennifer Disharoon of St. Petersburg, Fla., and sons Daniel of Dassel, Matthew of Hopkins, and Erik of Seattle.
Services have been held.
Tim Harlow • 612-673-7768