Archived Story

Accountant passionate about trains

Published 5:24pm Thursday, May 10, 2012

Bob Lee, who has a Niles construction company, called me after the May 3 story on Amtrak depot improvements.
Concerned Niles accountant and train buff Raymond T. Suabedissen Jr. (1916-2005) is fading from memory, he referred me to Lorraine Cronin, owner of Accounting Services on Third Street.
She remembers Mr. Suabedissen and his wife, Estelle, a Four Flags Garden Club member, as “very nice people who took me under their wing. He always had a dry joke.”
She paints a visually vivid description of him with bushy eyebrows and “hair all over the place.”
Cronin said she thought train travel to conduct audits fed his love of the railroad.
Mr. Suabedissen, who began restoring the depot in 1974, is honored inside “for his lifelong support of the American railroad and his tireless efforts on behalf of the Niles depot.”
John Gipner, chief florist and gardener for Michigan Central Railroad, was a 30-year-old German immigrant who put the City of Four Flags on the map as “the Garden City.”
Gipner tended a 10,000-square-foot greenhouse, gazebos, trout ponds, fountains and floating floral displays with a crew of as many as a dozen helpers.
Gipner was famous for giving every female train passenger a nosegay of fresh flowers with a fern — as many as 1,400 a day.
Every train through town between 1892 and 1935 scheduled a five-minute stopover to permit passengers to disembark and walk the winding paths or reflect on park benches.
In 1911, the president of the National Railway Gardeners’ Association, at a conference in Chicago, declared the Niles depot gardens “the most beautiful in all of Michigan, if not the world” with “Niles” sculpted in a floral display.
By 1935, in the grip of the Great Depression, Michigan Central shed its holdings to New York Central.
Gipner’s greenhouse was torn down, gardens neglected.
Grassy parkland, flowering trees, gazebos, ponds and fountains were sold to commercial and residential builders.
Just a small pie-shaped slice of space remained.
Gipner was in his mid-90s when he died in 1957.
It’s sad to think of the rose-red stonework and Romanesque architecture that make the depot so attractive black with soot.
Amtrak acquired the facility in 1971 and reopened the line to passenger service in 1974. Amtrak adopted the depot as a civic project, which is when Four Flags Garden Club became involved.
For the bicentennial in 1976, they designed a patriotic motif for plantings. In 1979, the Niles depot was dedicated as a historic site in the National Historic Sites registry.
In 1992, it became a Michigan Historic Site.
When Stella died in 1994, Ray offered the garden club perennials from her personal garden at home.
Remember when that crossing had a viaduct?

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