The next time you drive by the Roger T. Sermon Community Center on Noland Road, glance upward. What you see occupying fourth-floor space in the southwest corner of this renovated building that once provided electricity to Independence may come as a surprise.

If you take the elevator to the fourth floor, you'll step out, and, behold, a beautiful, well-kept greenhouse awaits you with 72 species of cacti and succulents provided by the Independence Garden Club for the community to enjoy.

No club member is more knowledgeable about growing these plants than Carolyn Hinkle, who members say is an expert on all the plants she donated to the 10-by-20-foot greenhouse, as well as all the pots in which to grow them. For 17 years, Carolyn faithfully volunteered her services as greenhouse caretaker until she relinquished her supervisory duties a few months ago because of health and other issues.

“After 17 years it was just time to back away from some of that stuff,” she says in a recent visit to the greenhouse with club members Gayla Siy, Helen Branstetter and Donna Dowell, who have taken over her greenhouse duties.

Carolyn is keeping a watchful eye on these new trainees, she says.

“It's a long learning process,” Carolyn says, noting she raised tropicals before becoming interested in cacti or succulents. “But I always had a green thumb. I admired them and had a few myself. So I had to learn by trial and error.”

Carolyn, a lifetime club member, became caretaker when the couple serving in that capacity decided it was time to retire. So she took on the role on the condition that the greenhouse grow only cacti and succulents, requiring less work.

“But to do that, a lot of work had to be done,” Carolyn says. “So the Independence Garden Club and the city of Independence got a grant. The garden club donated $1,000, I donated $1,000 and (the club) got a matching grant from the city to repair the cooling and exhaust unit installed years ago. It had stopped working and brought in a lot of moisture. In the summer, it was hot, it didn't have an exhaust on it, and it sometimes heated up to 115 degrees.”

The club wants to inform the community about one of best-kept secrets in the city.

“People come up here,”Carolyn says, “and they look at the greenhouse and say, ‘Oh, my gosh! That looks so nice.’ … Many visitors don't even know the greenhouse is there.”

Gayla, who gardens in pots, volunteered to help Donna Dowell and Helen Branstetter with greenhouse chores because she didn't want to see the greenhouse without a caretaker. Gayla also volunteered, because as club president, she thought it wouldn't hurt her to learn something new.

“I have enjoyed the time I spent with Carolyn showing me the different aspects of the greenhouse. I would really like for someone who is knowledgeable with these types of plants to step up and say, ‘I can help with this,’ if this is their interest. But the three of us are trying to pull it together.”

Donna, a board member and charter member, says, “Carolyn has done an excellent job trying to teach us how to take care of what she has done. And we are interested in letting the community know that we have a garden club and we invite the community to come join us.”

For more information about the greenhouse and Independence Garden Club, call Carolyn Hinkle at 816-838-5460.

Retired community news reporter Frank Haight Jr. writes this column for The Examiner. You can leave a message for him at 816-350-6363.