Amid the dozens of plaques that line the walls of Sarris Candies in Canonsburg – the Philanthropist of the Year Award presented to the late Frank Sarris in 2003, the Small Business Person of the Year Award, photos of him with presidents and legends in sports and music – hangs a photo of a delicate, candy cane-striped orchid.
It’s the Phalaenopsis Frank Sarris, a hybrid orchid named after Sarris by the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, where the Sarris Candies founder was a trustee and benefactor.
Phipps dedicated its renowned Orchid Room to Sarris, one month after he died on March 1, 2010.
Sarris, who once worked at a florist shop delivering flowers before he founded his candy company, long fancied orchids.
In fact, when Sarris arrived at the home of his future wife, Athena Kontos Sarris, to take her to the 1949 Canonsburg prom for their first official date, he brought her orchids.
Throughout their 58-year marriage, Sarris continued to give her orchids on special occasions.
“I don’t know why he loved orchids, but he did. They were his favorite flower,” said Athena Sarris. “I was so grateful and so touched when Phipps dedicated the room to Frank. It was wonderful for him, and Phipps held a wonderful affair in his name. It was such an honor, he would have loved it.”
The Frank Sarris orchid is a delicate, neon pink flower with red-and-pink candy stripes – fitting for the man known as the Candy Man. Chosen by Phipps Executive Director Richard Piacentini because of its beauty and candy stripe feature, it’s a hybrid of the Phalaenopsis peppermint and the Phalaenopsis Ai Energy orchids.
It was bred by Dick Wells at Hilltop Orchids of Cloverdale, Ind., who was thrilled when Piacentini approached him to see if Phipps could claim the orchid for Sarris.
“The folks from Phipps got in touch with me and said they wanted to name an orchid after Mr. Sarris and that he was a remarkable man, beloved by his community,” said Wells. “I said hey, we can do that. I was happy to do it.”
Wells creates 50 to 100 new hybrids each year, for which Hilltop has earned more than 70 national awards.
Wells shipped several to Phipps, and they are among the first orchids visitors see when they enter the Orchid Room. He still has some of the Frank Sarris orchids available for purchase, and is producing more in his greenhouse.
The orchid is registered at the Royal Horticultural Society at Kew Garden in London, and it won first place in the Orchid Society of Western Pennsylvania competition.
The Frank Sarris Orchid Room features 326 varieties of orchids (more than 30,000 species exist), including some of the rarest in the world. Different varieties bloom throughout the year, and an extensive lady slipper orchid collection and a vanilla orchid (vanilla flavoring comes from the seed pods of the vanilla orchid) are on display. The Orchid Room is curated and maintained with the help of the Orchid Society of Western Pennsylvania.
“We were really excited to dedicate an orchid to Frank Sarris. He and Athena have been great supporters of Phipps, and Athena and her family continue to come to and support a lot of events,” said Piacentini, noting that a special events room at the conservatory is also dedicated to the Sarrises. “Frank was a great leader and a very caring man who did so many good things and made significant contributions to the community and many worthwhile organizations.”
Sarris was known for his humanitarianism and philanthropy.
The Sarris family contributed to causes including the Frank F. Sarris Transplant Clinic of the Thomas E. Starzl Transplantation Institute of UPMC, where Sarris underwent a living donor kidney transplant, the Frank Sarris Public Library, the Athena Sarris UPMC Cafe Endowment, the University of Pittsburgh’s Library Fund, the athletics department and the Panther Club Athletic Scholarship Fund, and many other organizations in his hometown of Canonsburg and in Washington County.
“He loved people and people loved him,” said Athena Sarris. “Frank was a giver. It’s nice that his name will always be tied to that orchid and the Orchid Room. I’ll be long gone and that orchid will still be there.”
To purchase a Frank Sarris orchid, contact Dick Wells, owner of Hilltop Orchids, at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the website at www.hilltoporchids.com. Also, view the Frank Sarris orchid and the Orchid Room during the Orchid and Tropical Bonsai Show, which runs through March 9. Phipps is open daily from 9:30 a.m.to 5 p.m. and until to 10 p.m. on Fridays.