Remembering Tom Knoche

Tom Knoche (OH KN T), 1938-2013

Tom Knoche

Tom Knoche speaking at the 1984 SSE Campout

Sardinia, OH


By Diane Ott Whealy

Kent and I first met Tom and Sue Knoche in 1981 when they attended the first Seed Savers Exchange campout in Princeton, Missouri. I recall how the first thing Tom said after giving affectionate hugs was, “I drove over 650 miles to get here! I have never met anyone in my life that I could talk to about my collection of seed. I always gardened with my granny and we saved seeds. No one else ever understood or shared my excitement.”

Tom once said, “My grandma is going on eighty-nine years old, and she’s said all her life that no bean was worth eating unless you had to string it first. A lot of the old folks say that about the string beans.”

Tom was known as “the squash collector.” When asked about his squash collection in the early 1980s, Tom said, “The squash that I’ve collected and that I’m the most concerned about are the large-fruited ones. These types are dying out so fast that there is no way they’re going to be preserved if somebody doesn’t take an interest in them. People want the little tiny handy size. Nobody wants to raise the large family sized types anymore. If I were to take some of my precious squash to our County Fair, there’d be no place for them. They have everything so categorized that if mine isn’t a Hubbard or a Butternut or a Bush Scallop, there’s no place for them. That’s how bad things have gotten. And how on earth are young people ever going to know that there’s anything different? I went to the State Fair for several years and tried to acquire seed from some of the growers. But there’s so little interest that they don’t even bother anymore to put the names of the growers on the specimens at the State Fair.”

Tom Knoche

Tom Knoche, speaking at the 2011 Conference and Campout.


Tom and Sue were early members who truly loved Seed Savers Exchange. We cherish their spirit, enthusiasm and expertise that gave SSE the courage to move forward with our mission over 35 years ago, a time when no one else was noticing. John Swenson, another long time member, once had a wonderful description of those who have joined us over the years. “Of those who have contributed over the years,” he said, “they become one of the sparkles on a gem.” We will miss Tom’s stories, but his spirit and seeds are very much alive in our organization. There is one sparkle on that gem that shines brighter today.

Over three decades ago Kent and I wanted to meet our early members to hear their voices. The last time I saw Tom was at the Seed Savers Exchange 2011 Campout. I am somewhat comforted knowing we recorded his voice and stories to be heard again by the new members of Seed Savers Exchange. Are there stories in your life that need to be recorded?

Tom Knoche speaking at the 2011 SSE Conference (part 1)

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Tom Knoche speaking at the 2011 SSE Conference (part 2)

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“I may not be a very big grower anymore, but I am thankful that I could contribute to the ongoing success of the Seed Savers Exchange.”

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  1. Raechel Murphy says:

    How wonderful to have a little bit of his legacy recorded for us to share in. A beautiful memorial.

  2. Beth Lange-Reineke says:

    Thanks for sharing this touching article Tom. I too have fond memories of Tom and Sue when I was a lot younger while staying at campouts and talking around the table. I’m glad you could have a keepsake of him talking about his story. The first picture is of how I remember him. I treasure a VHS of Gail Lange (my mom) describing and telling stories about the varieties in her garden one year.

    • diane ott whealy says:

      I remember you and your family as well. Gail was another treasure we lost and so happy you have her stories. Glad you are still involved with Seed Savers Exchange.

  3. Diane,
    On behalf of our entire family, thank you so much for honoring my Dad with this article. The SSE was truly a memorable part of Dad’s life. It grew to be much more than collecting seeds, however, it became more of an extension of family as relationships grew and prospered, just like the seeds. Mom and Dad really grew to know and love many families that were involved with the organization and I thank you for all it has meant to both of them over the years.

    Jennifer Blevins (Tom & Sue’s youngest daughter)

    • Diane Ott Whealy, Seed Savers Exchange says:


      First of all, I remember you as a child at one of the early Missouri camp outs which does not seem that long ago! Writing the tribute to your father was my honor. As you mentioned your parents extended their love and concern for so many in our seed saving group. I know he will be missed by both families.

      Fond regards,