The below historical account of the founding of Willoway Nurseries was written by founder Marilyn Demaline and each chapter originally appeared in a series of newsletter articles to commemmorate the 60th anniversary of Willoway.
In 1935, Les Demaline, owner and founder of Willoway Nurseries, Inc. was born in Cleveland, Ohio to parents, Evelyn and Leland Demaline. In 1944, the family moved to Westlake to a home on Bradley Rd. that had a nice yard and additional property on which the family grew a large garden, raised chickens and had a jersey cow and a pony. Since this was during the WWII, most families had victory gardens in which they grew their vegetables for eating and canning. Les loved living in the country and worked in the vegetable garden as a young boy. At the age of 11, he proudly learned how to operate the family‘s David Bradley cultivator. Les’ dad and mom opened their own bakery in North Olmsted in 1950 and Les along with his younger brother helped in the family-owned business. But when he turned 16, Les told his parents he wanted to work outdoors and he began mowing lawns for his summer job. He got his driver’s license, bought a pick-up truck (a 1940 Chevy) and borrowed the family lawn mower and trailer. When the high school principal learned of Les’ love for working with plants, he introduced him to a local greenhouse owner who hired Les to help in the greenhouse on Saturdays.
Chapter One: 1954 to 1963
In 1954, at 18 years of age, Les “officially” went into business as the Sole Proprietor and Owner of Willoway Nursery. The name of the business came from a row of willow trees that were growing along the side of his parent’s home. The assets of his company included a 1950 Ford Stake Truck, acquired in 1953 for $100.00 cash, trade-in of the 1940 Chevy Pick-Up truck and a chattel mortgage installment loan for $734.58. Having developed an early interest in growing plants, Les constructed hot-bed frames and began to propagate geraniums and taxus evergreens at this location. The beds were built on the ground using a base of horse manure for “bottom” heat and insulation and glass window sash on top to capture the heat of the sun. To support himself and grow the company, Les not only mowed lawns, but worked at times for a tree company, trimming and taking down trees. In addition, he was employed by local greenhouses and nurseries such as Hi-Way Nursery and the original Sunbeam Farms in Westlake where he learned how to grow annuals and perennials. During the winter he split and delivered firewood, drove a truck delivering cut flowers to Pittsburgh for Perkin’s Greenhouse, and even sub-contracted himself and his truck out to the local post office to deliver packages during the Christmas season.
Les and Marilyn were classmates during their school years at Westlake. They began dating in 1952 and graduated together in 1954. Even though Les took a bookkeeping class as a high school elective, he allowed Marilyn to assume the job of “bookkeeper” for Willoway Nursery. Prior to their marriage in January, 1956, they leased a greenhouse property in Westlake. There was an apartment above the boiler room and that is where they set up housekeeping.
From 1956 to 1960 Les and Marilyn lived in Westlake where they used the 2500 sq. ft. greenhouse to grow geraniums and annuals, force potted tulips and hyacinths for Easter and grow a cut-flower crop of snap dragons for the florist trade while continuing to service an expanding list of lawn maintenance customers.
During the time they spent running the greenhouse and business from the Westlake location, Les and Marilyn welcomed son, Tom, in January of 1957 and daughter, Cathy, in April of 1959. During the spring and summer, while Les was working at the lawn maintenance jobs, Tom was often found “helping” Marilyn water and transplant in the greenhouse. He spent a lot of his early years using the greenhouse dirt pile as his sand box while playing with his toy trucks and tractors. One of our memorable experiences occurred in the early spring of 1959. Those potted Easter plants that were ready for the market had to be delivered. Easter in 1959 was on March 29. About the time we were to start deliveries, Les severely injured his leg and he was unable to drive the truck. So Marilyn, expecting Cathy in early April, hired a cousin who was not yet old enough to drive, to help her with the deliveries. They loaded the plants into the family station wagon, Marilyn drove and her cousin, Rich, delivered the plants to our customers. We kidded Cathy that she started her greenhouse career very early as she was born one week after Easter and all the plants had been delivered in time.
Les purchased his first tractor, a 1940 vintage Ford Ferguson, in order to fit ground for planting some of the taxus liners he had propagated. He soon realized that if he wanted to establish a production nursery he would have to find land to buy as the rented property was only leased from year-to-year. And our family was quickly outgrowing the apartment. We began looking in the Avon area of Lorain County. Through a local realtor Les and Marilyn were introduced to Frank and Rose Wysocki who owned a 20-acre farm on which they had grown vegetables for many years. Tractors had never been used on this property as Mr. Wysocki did all his farm work using horses. To supplement income, he had built a small greenhouse in which he grew cucumbers for the local market. This was during the infancy of the greenhouse vegetable era that was started in the Cleveland area. Because of his age and the fact that his land would continue be used to support growing crops, Mr. Wysocki agreed to sell us 10 acres of the farm. The title transferred to us in June, 1958. This acreage provided us the land to start the nursery as well as build our home. The land purchase included a barn, a very small greenhouse, a coal-fired boiler, and a small pond. Oh, what we learned in those early years. The dirt floor of the boiler room was below the driveway level so when it rained hard or the ground thawed, it would flood. We lost electric power often which meant that the coal had to be hand-shoveled to keep the boiler heating. The pond water that was used to water the plants in the greenhouse was always stopping up the water pumps with algae so we had to keep extra pumps handy. In looking back at all these adventures, one soon realized that a nurseryman, much like a farmer, has to have a knowledge of many trades in order to survive, eg., engineer, plumber, electrician, mechanic, chemist as well as a grower. Continuing to learn and face the everyday challenges became a way of life for our whole family.
In 1960, we built our home and moved the family and the business entirely to Avon, Ohio. By this time we had already planted some of the acres with taxus liners and began to remodel the greenhouse structure by buying used glass to expand the growing area. We continued to shovel coal, though, until we built the cement block boiler room that still stands today. At that time we purchased a used boiler and converted to natural gas for heat when it became available. We sure didn’t miss the coal!
During this chapter of the business history, we were bitten by the flower show bug. Les helped he owners of Perkin’s Greenhouse design and install their garden displays at the Cleveland Home and Flower Show in the old Cleveland Public Hall in downtown Cleveland. He really enjoyed the challenge of forcing plants to complete the garden displays that were quite an attraction for the general public. He worked very hard and eventually was invited to install a competitive garden display entry by Willoway Nursery. We participated in spring indoor garden displays installed in the Old Arcade Building on Euclid Avenue at this time as well as summer display gardens at the Cuyahoga County Fair in Berea. Display gardens helped Les to grow the landscape side of the business. But propagation of and growing plants took a great part in the time spent developing the nursery side of the business. Les was also able to do custom work fitting and grading yards for other landscapers. This helped pay for the equipment. Through these early years since our busiest times were in the spring and summer, we hired mostly high school students to work. We didn’t have sufficient work for a full-time staff until later.
Some trivia from those early years: when we started buying bare-root tree liners from Oregon, the plants came to us by rail as did the bales of peat moss shipped from Canada. The cars carrying these items were parked on a siding track at S.R. 76 (now known as Rt. 83) and the Avon-Avon Lake line and we took our truck to the site to unload the product and bring it to the nursery.
Chapter Two: 1964 – 1973
In the second ten years of business, we began to “GROW” Willoway Nursery in many directions. We purchased the remaining 10 acres of the Wysocki farm and with that acreage and some leased property across the street from the nursery, we expanded our field production. By the end of this period we were certified by the State of Ohio Nursery Inspector for approximately 30 acres of growing field stock.
As the Field Nursery was developed, it was necessary to replace or repair land tile to assure adequate drainage. The tile used at that time, made of clay, was 12” long, and they were laid in trenches by hand. The trenches, about 40” deep, ran the length of the field being drained and were spaced about 25’ apart. Equally as important to well-drained fields was the availability of water for irrigation. The original farm pond on Section 2 had to be cleaned and enlarged to enable us to increase our available water supply. While digging the pond out, Les remembers seeing that the structure of the soil was comprised of about 5 feet of sand on top of clay. The formation of this soil made millions of years ago by the glacier was evidenced by actually seeing logs and clam shells buried in the clay layer. This created pockets of quick sand that have been found here and there around the farm. The sandy soil is excellent for growing, but the field drainage is just as important to avoid standing water that could harm the plant’s root systems.
Irrigation of the fields was done by laying out 30 ft. lengths of 4” aluminum pipe on each field that required water. Risers with sprinkler heads were fit into the pipes. Water was pumped by using gasoline-powered portable pumps or a hydraulic pump connected to a tractor. The pumps were placed by a pond and the water lines were connected to the pump. Each move to cover all the fields required that the pipe and risers be moved by hand to each location as needed. Special trailers were built to haul the pipe to the different farms.
A review of an early Price List - two mimeographed pages, dated Fall, 1967 and Spring, 1968 - listed balled-and-burlapped plant varieties such as taxus browni, hicksi, capitata, and intermedia; juniper compact andorra and blue hetzi; ilex crenata convexa, crenata hetzi, and rotundifolia; along with varieties of boxwood, mahonia,, deutzia, euonymus, viburnum and syringa. Evergreens sold between $3.50 and $8.50 per plant. Broadleaf evergreens and flowering shrubs were priced between $1.50 and $6.00, depending on size. Maple trees such as acer rubrum and acer saccharum and pin oaks sold for $15.00 per inch of caliper. And flowering crabapple trees, 5-6’ brought $7.00 per plant.
The B&B plants, all dug by hand, were used on our landscape jobs or sold to local landscapers in the early years. After the plants were dug they were put in a holding area which was under an apple tree and next to the greenhouse.
The greenhouse area was expanded by rebuilding two used greenhouses that had been salvaged from another location, building the cement block boiler room (that still exists) and installing a larger, up-dated, used boiler that could be converted from coal to natural gas.
In the greenhouse we used wooden flats for propagation and growing liners, annual seedlings and ground covers. Plastic market packs and flats were introduced into our greenhouse production for the finished annuals. Geraniums and other potted plants continued to be grown in clay pots for a while longer. These pots were produced in the Cleveland area so they were readily available for pick-up, as needed. And in Rocky River there was a basket factory that made the baskets that each held eight 4” geranium pots, the marketing package used for retail sales at that time. The pots and flats were heavy once they were filled with soil mix and they were bulky to handle, load and ship. Ground cover was sold at 4.00 to 5.00 per flat, flats of fibrous begonias and impatiens sold wholesale for 2.75 per flat, while the going price for a 4” geranium was .45 each. Early crops of geraniums were propagated by pulling up plants at the end of the season from our customer’s flower beds and then making our own cuttings to root and grow on for the next year’s crop. Once city water was available, the old pond behind the original greenhouse was filled in and by using the city water we were able to install mist lines for propagation. While we had some early time-clocks set up for the misting function, the greenhouses still had the old venting system that was operated by hand cranks and chains and vents had to be opened and closed manually each day as needed.
Tom showed an early interest in learning about the production of container-grown plants by reading a book about Monrovia Nursery along with various nursery publications, while in junior high. In the early 70’s Les and Tom began growing container plants, using metal cans made and shipped to us from Lerio Corporation in Alabama. These steel cans were also hard to handle and they rusted and bent easily. The beginning of the container production was grown in beds in front of the greenhouse where water was readily available.
Beginning with display gardens at the Cuyahoga County Fair in Berea, the Demaline family enjoyed participating in installing the show gardens. Tom and Cathy spent many hours at the fair helping the show directors, Joe Kern and Dick Howell set up displays of the cut flowers entered by local citizens into the annual Fair competition and then putting the appropriate ribbons on each entry after the judging was completed.
The Cleveland Home and Flower Show Gardens were a highlight for Willoway Nursery and the Demalines. Each year the Show Floor of the Cleveland Public hall was designed to accommodate from 8 to 10 competitive display gardens which were installed by local greenhouse growers and landscape companies. Each grower drew his site “out of a hat” and then the company was free to design their garden for the space they drew while matching the theme selected for that year’s show. In 1967, after many years of Les’ helping other growers, we were invited to participate in the 1968 show as a competitor. For many years, we spent each winter designing and forcing the plants for our display at this very popular annual event that usually occurred in early March of each year. It became a family effort and Tom and Cathy were able to help and participate a little more each year as they grew older. The first few years Marilyn would pick them up at school on the day before the show opened. They would go to the show and help put the finishing touches on the display and then Les would take them out to dinner. This became an annual ritual we all enjoyed. As the years passed, Tom assumed design of the garden display and Cathy grew and forced the annuals used while everyone helped with the forcing of the trees and plants and the construction involved in the display. While Willoway no longer enters a garden display in the annual show, our employees continue to be responsible for forcing and delivering many plants to the show for use by the current competitors.
The “GROWING” of Willoway also included Les and Marilyn’s home. In 1965, a garage and an office were added to their home so Marilyn could move the company bookkeeping responsibilities from the kitchen table. With this move, an ADDOMETER dial vintage calculator that used a stylus to enter numbers into the machine and given to Les by his mom, was set aside when Marilyn splurged on the purchase of a used mechanical BURROUGHS adding machine that performed addition and subtraction functions by entering the numbers on a key board of 72 number keys. Once the numbers were entered the operator pulled a hand-operated crank and the entries were accumulated to obtain a total. Electronics were not yet on the horizon! Along with the use of a portable typewriter (non-electric,) Marilyn was able to set up an efficient office while remaining at home while the children were small. The office provided Les a desk area, too, for planning and drawing the landscape plans for that part of the business.
Of course, we did not have available any sophisticated forms of communication in the 1960’s. We started with a Lorain Telephone Co. wall phone in the kitchen that was expanded to accommodate a line to Cleveland, known as a foreign exchange service to better serve our customers in the Cuyahoga County area. An old cast iron dinner bell, which Les found, was renovated and put on a post outside the kitchen door. Marilyn rang this bell when she wanted Les, Tom or to Cathy to come to the house. This bell remains today outside the side door of Tom’s home.
We also continued to “GROW” as we became members of the Nursery Associations located in Lorain, Cuyahoga and Lake Counties along with the Greenhouse Growers of Cleveland, the Ohio Nursery Association and the Ohio Florists Association. All of these groups were supported by the Ohio State Cooperative Extension Service and the memberships were comprised of growers and representatives of horticultural enterprises in the northern Ohio area. By being part of these groups our areas of education were expanded to include seminars and research provided by the Agricultural and Horticultural Agents of the Extension Service. Agents were also available to help members with specific growing problems such as identifying plant diseases and/or insects while helping to locate the appropriate treatment. This education is available to growers to this day on any appropriate subject or problem that pertains to the current times of the nursery and greenhouse business.
Through the trade associations, as our plant inventory grew and in order to meet new customers, Willoway began to participate in trade shows. Les, our first and only salesman at this time, was always able to sell our plants, but he often oversold the inventory. This prompted Marilyn with Tom’s help to begin seeking an “inventory control system.” The first inventory was done manually, of course, using a catalog card system. We all know that inventory continues to be a never-ending venture for growers, but with the coming of computers and electronics it seems to improve each year.
Chapter Three: 1974 – 1983
In the early years of this time period, the production area of the nursery continued to expand slowly. More rented acres were devoted to increase production of field-grown stock as we worked to learn better growing techniques for producing quality container-grown plants. We added a crop of tender azaleas in the greenhouse production rotation that we sold to the florist industry. This added revenue to the annual greenhouse crop sales and helped with expenses incurred for the operation of the greenhouse.
During this time, along with other greenhouse growers, we faced a crisis while securing adequate natural gas supplies to maintain heat through the winter months. Threats of reduction of natural gas supplies were ever-present for a few years until the industry, with the help of the Ohio Farm Bureau, was able to obtain permission to purchase our own gas supplies that were then transported by the Columbia Gas System pipe lines to our greenhouses. The gas commodity added expense to every greenhouse growers’ operation and required all growers to look very carefully at the costs and efficiencies of their boilers and growing facilities as well as the types of crops that were being grown.
For Willoway, it was becoming a challenge to manage the diversity of the production and growing entities along with the landscaping and lawn maintenance side of the business. So by 1974, we agreed to phase out landscaping/lawn maintenance and devote full time to the production and sales of the fields, containers and greenhouses.
By 1977, we had built a customer base of local landscapers who came to the nursery to pick up their plants. This changed our day-to-day operations enough that we needed to have a person at the field office/greenhouse area every day during the growing season. So we finished an area on the second floor of the main building to accommodate an office for Marilyn and a downstairs office that was shared by Les and Tom. Our first plant tag printing machine was located in a storage area behind the upstairs office so Marilyn could print tags while doing payroll, invoicing customers, paying bills, or helping in the greenhouse, as needed. When a customer came in they used a doorbell to summon Marilyn who would call an employee up to load the truck. Prior to receiving our private band radio license, the employee was summoned by a very loud buzzer noise that was sent to a loud speaker horn out in the nursery and whoever was available came up to load the customer’s truck. Along with the offices, an addition was built to the east on to the main building for use as a larger shop area. The picture attached shows that building as it existed in 1977. And the original shop area was returned to greenhouse use as well as a lunch area.
1978 tested all of us with the infamous blizzard in January. Les and Tom were in Columbus at the ONA Trade Show and Cathy was back at college following the Christmas break when the blizzard hit. Fortunately the electric power was not interrupted so the greenhouses were fine. The blizzard winds raised havoc with plastic-covered greenhouses, though, and Bill Schlegel, now retired, and the late Roy Hiller were able to get to the nursery and help Marilyn patch the holes in the plastic to keep the houses inflated. Even though the CENTS Show closed, the roads were so bad that Les and Tom were unable to travel back to Avon for two days. Tom celebrated his 21st birthday while waiting for the storm to subside and the roads opened to traffic so they could return to Avon.
In 1979 Tom married Barbara Hinman, the “girl next door” and they acquired the property known as Range 2. The parcel provided them a home along with an older greenhouse structure, some very large service buildings and 14 acres. Following this land acquisition, Les and Marilyn were able to purchase the 20-acres between the main nursery and the Hinman property. And in 1980-82 Cathy became a land owner when she purchased 40 acres in Sheffield, known as the Peterson Farm and the Walters’ Farm that included a greenhouse. So we were “On the GROW” again!
We moved the shop area to the Range 2 facility which gave the Physical Plant Department the expansive area they have available today to repair, build and maintain the physical side of our nursery. Early on, we built or modified many pieces of equipment. Starting with trailers used to move equipment or plants, our staff has gone on to develop machines used to plant, trim, and install irrigation lines, to name a few. The list of equipment continued to grow to include more trucks and tractors. We purchased our first skid-steer loader and a Caretree tree spade at this time.
Greenhouse # 11 and 12 were added to the main greenhouse range, bio-therm boilers were installed for heat along with bottom heat lines on the planting benches to improve efficiencies of production. New equipment was obtained such as the Hamilton seeder and the first flat filler.
With the acquisition of additional land, we began to move field nursery planting to the outlying farm areas once the drainage was improved and water was available for necessary irrigation. The property left available at the main nursery was transitioned to container production. The main pond was once again cleaned and enlarged. Set up of underground installation of water and electric lines commenced followed by laying out the growing beds for containers. Our first canning machine, a Potmaster, was purchased at this time. It was capable of canning pots from 4” size to a 3-gallon. Another phase of container production that was developed in the early years was that of the different soil mixes. With trial and error, recipes were carefully tested for each crop. During the production season, soil mixing has become a full-time job and requires proper equipment, the right ingredients and a trained operator. Soil mixes are also made for the greenhouse crops, as needed.
In 1981 Willoway Nurseries hosted a Summer Field Day for the first time. Sponsored by Lake County Nursery Association in cooperation with the Area Extension Agents, the Field Day was open to the nursery and landscape associations in the northeast area of Ohio. An area of the Hinman farm was seeded to provide a grassy area for the vendors to set up their displays. I believe there were about 50 vendors and from 400-500 attendees registered for our first Field Day. Wagon tours of the existing nursery were offered along with educational displays ending the day with an old-fashioned Western Beef Barbeque cooked by a friend on an open-fired spit.
Tom and Cathy moved into full-time work at the nursery upon their graduation and they worked alongside the employees in about every phase of nursery production and management at one time or another. Les did most of the selling until 1975 when Russ Champion joined Willoway as an independent Sales Representative. He developed a larger sales base for us as he represented 3 major nurseries.
In looking at available information for the writing of this history, it appears that 1979 was the beginning of the largest growth period Willoway Nurseries experienced. Due to increased awareness of the use of plants to add beauty to the landscape surrounding homes and businesses, in public parks and along highways, horticulture became a very important industry. GREEN SURVIVAL was a motto used by the industry and trade associations of the day. It became one of the fastest developing sectors in agriculture in the United States. While Willoway Nurseries has always been a family-owned and operated business, it was soon evident that in order to maintain the growth that we were experiencing, it would be necessary to hire full-time employees. Our first full-time hire was Mark Holahan. In 1979, Les and Marilyn met Mark and his wife, Mary at a Cooperative Extension Program designed to help small horticultural businesses get started. Mark had been operating his own landscape company following his college graduation and attended this program at which Les and Marilyn were sharing some of their knowledge and experiences gained over the years. After becoming acquainted Les offered Mark a job and he came on board to help Les manage the Field Nursery Department. Mark remains to this day in that position while managing the planting of each field crop and overseeing the plant maintenance program and all the while witnessing many changes.
By 1982, the nursery was getting large enough that we determined a need for better communication. We tried some versions of intercom systems, but finally applied to the Federal Communications Commission for a license to operate private band radios. This allowed us to reach anyone working at the main nursery from the main office and enabled us to process customer orders much more efficiently. Our first order for high-band equipment consisted of 4 hand-held radios and 2 truck installations.
So much was happening in our industry in the 1980’s. We continued to add production inventory and that required more land acquisition. The introduction of new plants was increasing and new plants had to be evaluated for hardiness in our sales area. This required additional research and propagation to fill plant needs. Many varieties had to be purchased in liner sizes so we could add the new introductions to our production. And we observed our production, always looking for new plants that might appear to be worth further testing and deserve a plant patent or a name trademark.
Chapter Four: 1984 – 1988
As Willoway Nurseries began its 30th year of business, several acres of land were acquired. When leases expired on rented ground, we tried to replace those acres with property we owned. Most of the properties purchased included tilled land that was easily acclimated to the nursery crops. In fact, the Long Road farm had been run as a family nursery for many years prior to our purchase. The greenhouse facility known as Range 3 was also established prior to our purchase as was the WDC property.
At the main nursery, new container production areas were built in five-acre plots by installing underground irrigation and electric lines and constructing the beds for the containers as well as driveways. The beds were built so plants could be spaced out during the growing season and then consolidated pot-to-pot before covering the hoop houses with poly for winter storage.
The new acreage designated for field-grown plants was evaluated and roads, tile, drainage ditches and water lines were repaired or installed as needed. To aid in the irrigation of these new field areas, Bauer and/or AgRain hard-hose travelling sprinklers were purchased. On this equipment, hoses are mounted on a large reel that moves the hoses through the fields using the power of the water being pumped from the ponds or using the PTO power on the back of a tractor. Field irrigation became more efficient and eliminated the time spent moving and setting up the 40’ lengths of irrigation pipe and sprinkler heads as those previously used.
Irrigation facilities were greatly expanded to accommodate the increased container production. In 1985, a 2-acre pond was built on the property now known as WDC. This reservoir holds approximately nine-million gallons of water and has pumping capacity to move the water from this new east reservoir to the main pond on the west side of Rte. 83 by running the transfer line under the road.
Shipping of our plants quickly became a logistic that grew rapidly as production and customer base increased. Because we scheduled shipments to begin early each spring to accommodate our customers, our crews often spent many hours covering, uncovering or moving plants to avoid damage when the inevitable late frosts or snows and spring rains greatly hampered efficient handling. In 1985 we constructed the first covered shipping docks. Two concrete docks were built that backed up to 4 Nexus greenhouses. The greenhouses were connected to a barn that had been added to the south side of main greenhouses. This barn, built to add space for potting and propagation, has always been known as the “Ladies Barn”. A small shipping office was erected in the covered greenhouse area to use while preparing shipping paperwork. Shipping procedures and efficiencies were greatly improved with this addition and four more covered docks were added in 1988.
We used Econoline vans with shelving to deliver annuals to the local markets for many years, but once again increased production required larger trucks. Two 24’ step vans with shelves were added to our fleet to move more product, including greenhouse and nursery plants, to the local markets. We relied on local truckers to deliver the larger loads of nursery plants. By 1984, it was quite evident that we had to load and ship more than 3 truckloads of plants each day in the spring. We had a 1981 International semi-tractor and a fifth wheel trailer which we used to supplement our local shipping schedule and then we bought a GMC Brigadier semi-tractor, two 42’ van trailers and a tri-axle dump trailer. We hired a truck driver who delivered plants and on non-shipping days he hauled sand, haydite and gravel used at the nursery. This proved to be a good move for the time, but as our sales/delivery area expanded we were shipping more product to areas outside the 350-mile radius we had been serving. Also, we needed refrigerated equipment for the long trips during the summer season, so we determined our best move would be to acquire more trailers and hire independent truckers to pull our equipment. With the additional trailers we could load 8-10 trailers each day and not have to wait for an empty trailer to return from a delivery in order to be re-loaded.
1986 was the year to add another water reservoir. Working with the local branch of the Federal Soil and Water Conservation Service, an upground reservoir was built at the rear of the main nursery next to the wooded area. The 265’ x 330’ reservoir was constructed six foot underground and the dirt removed was used to build a dike 6 foot above ground in order to create a pond with 12’ depth. The two ponds on the main nursery were connected by underground water lines so that we could move water to either area as well as being able to transfer water from the east pond at WDC to the main nursery.
During this chapter of Willoway history, machinery and equipment was added to help perform the additional tasks our production growth required. In order to be able to do the tasks in a timely and efficient manner, we acquired additional tractors, skid-steer loaders, a Coyote Loader, and a JD Crawler Dozer. Sprayers, Caretree and Vermeer Tree Spades, rototillers, and canning machines – a Honcho, Bouldin & Lawson, and another Gleason - were also purchased. And a multi-line phone system was installed in the main office that included inter-com lines and voice mail service to all the offices.
We began looking at computers in 1982 and leased a small system made by Moore Business Systems that included nursery software. Because we were so new at moving a manual accounting system to a computer, we were only able to get our invoicing system on line. We worked to set up an inventory numbering system and a workable chart of accounts, but before we could interface everything the main office took a severe lightning strike through the radio tower that destroyed the computer along with the base radio and the postage meter. We had to return to hand-writing or typing invoices after that. We subscribed to an off-site service, Agri-Fax, to which we manually reported our general ledger information and the system prepared our financial tax records. Then in 1985 we purchased the SLICE 2 computer system including all the software for a complete accounting and inventory package that was written for production nurseries.
More employees were brought on line and trained to do invoicing, payables and payroll. Computers became our way of life from then on and we never looked back! To accommodate the additional employees who were hired and the computer equipment that was installed during this time, we remodeled and added on to the existing main office in 1987-88, one more time.
This was also the time for doing a company re-organization. The family members remained as Corporate Officers and Administration Managers, but we determined that departmentalizing the company would achieve a better way to divide the ever-increasing responsibilities by assigning them appropriately to each department.
Until 1987, customers came to the main nursery for pick-up of any order. With the increasing size of the main nursery, it was no longer efficient for the customer or the sales staff to drive around the nursery to pick up orders for those walk-in customers who wanted to select their plants. So we moved the Wholesale Distribution Center Department (WDC) across the street. Small quantities of all plants were placed at the WDC facility and customers could then walk-in and pick up what they wanted. For the first few years the WDC used a mobile trailer as an office, but they had a computer with SLICE5 software to do invoicing and track inventory at their location.
One of the greatest challenges we faced in business took place in 1988, the year of the drought. While we had three large reservoirs to retain rainfall and nursery drainage water, the container production had grown to a size that required a large amount of irrigation water on a daily basis. During the period of time from mid-May to the end of August, 1988, we received a total of .98 inches of precipitation while the daily maximum temperatures registered an average of 91 degrees. Because of the severity of the drought, city water was not available for our field use and as each day passed, the situation became more dire. In desperation Tom contacted the office of the Lorain County Soil and Water Conservation and requested permission to use a county ditch that runs north from North Ridgeville near the area of Rte. 83 and I-480 and continued past the WDC pond on the east side of Rte. 83. A large pond had been built in the vicinity of that county ditch when I-480 was constructed and it was full of water. The owner of the pond agreed to sell the water to us. To get the water to Avon we rented a large pump that moved the water from the pond to the county ditch. The water than ran naturally, approximately 8-10 miles, down to Avon where we picked up the running water and pumped it to the WDC pond where it could then be transferred to the main ponds to use for the irrigation of the main container facility until we received adequate rainfall in early September. That move saved our container production, while emphasizing the need to continue to adding water reservoirs as well as learning better methods of water conservation to avoid a situation such as this in the future.
We hosted another Green Industries Field Day on August 18, 1987 and continued to set up Sales Booths to display our plants at the Ohio Nurserymen’s Association annual CENTS shows. And everyone continued to look forward to planning and creating the Annual Flower Show Gardens in the Cleveland Public Hall each year.
I can’t end this Chapter without mentioning one of the greatest joys of this time period was welcoming the birth of Les and Marilyn’s first grandchildren. Twins, Emily and Erin Jalkanen, the first-born of our family’s third generation, came into the world in January, 1985. Growing up surrounded by the nursery and greenhouse gave them opportunity to help during school, where needed. While each of them were encouraged to choose their own career, after graduating from OSU, Emily returned home to assume the administrative position she holds today, managing the Nurseries’ Human Resources Department. Erin chose another avenue after college, a career that she enjoys. Both girls were always encouraged to” smell the flowers” along the way, even as they watered in the greenhouse or had to help close the vents!
Chapter 5: 1989-1993
1989 STARTED OFF WITH A BANG! In February crews from Willoway Nurseries not only completed a competitive display garden at the Annual Home and Flower Show, but also built and installed the Flower Show Feature Garden - a Tower of Mums. Structures of various sizes, from 5-20 feet tall, were constructed in which chrysanthemums of many colors were inserted to create a fascinating, modular floral display. A fountain and pool surrounded by beds of mums completed the garden. Lights that continually changed color added a special effect to the display.
The competitive display featured a formal garden complete with fountain, garden statuary and blooming pyracantha. The displays for the 1989 Cleveland Home and Flower Show encompassed many months of planning and greenhouse forcing prior to the two weeks of shipping and building the displays at the Cleveland Public Hall. The efforts, supervised by Tom Demaline and Cathy and Jay kowalczyk, required many, many man hours to complete. However, the efforts were rewarded when the garden was awarded the “Best of Show Award” for the second year in a row.
Willoway Wholesale Distribution Center Inc. was transitioned from a Department of WNI to its own corporate status in 1989. This change allowed WDC to sell products other than plants grown by the nursery such as mulch, grass seed and landscape timbers. Our customer acceptance of the Wholesale Center concept required an office building and a storage barn be built in 1989 to accommodate the growth in that area of the business. A search was than started to locate a property to develop as a second WDC location in the Columbus area. The land for the original Columbus location, purchased in 1990 in Hilliard, OH, was developed and opened in 1991.
The large water reservoir on the Stoney Ridge Farm was constructed in 1989-90. It was built as an up-ground facility, also, with an in-ground depth of 15’ and above-ground depth of about 15’, covering approximately 3 acres. Capital improvements were then made that included the 3-phase electric pumping system and the required underground infrastructure for the irrigation and electric service to the production areas on that farm.
A Field Office/Shop/Lunch Room building was constructed at the Long Road farm in 1990 and new drainage tiles were installed on both the Long Rd. and the Koleno farms. New Nexus poly greenhouses and 4 gutter-connect greenhouses were added to Range 4 along with a loading dock for growing and shipping of the increased annual production.
Expansion to the Department known as “The Tag Room” began in 1991 when we purchased the first Thermal Printer with a Taggit Hard Drive that gave us the ability to print many of the plant tags as needed and enabled us to print UPC bar codes for our customers. Originally set up in a part of the Tool Room area at Range 2, the operation was moved to the upstairs of the Shipping Barn a few years later.
THE MOVE WEST began in 1991 when the Lakeview Farm of 89 acres was purchased in Erie County. As this was bare farm ground the nursery was “built” from scratch. Designated as a field production nursery in the beginning, the initial field plans included the tiling of 30 acres for immediate planting along with construction of a 7-acre lake with a dam for irrigation. A part of this farm includes a lot fronting on Lake Erie. With proper permits, we are allowed to draw water directly from the Lake and pump it to the reservoir on the Lakeview Farm when additional water is needed. As new farms were acquired, land tile projects were implemented, again, to retain adequate drainage for the crops. We also began to install drip irrigation systems and retired the large irrigation rain guns in order to conserve and use water efficiently and avoid losing so much water due to evaporation. Improving water conservation methods continue to this day.
In 1993, we remodeled the main office one more time, by adding some office space to the second floor. This additional space was occupied by the Sales Staff and a large room was used as a Conference Room. The Maintenance Shop and Tool Room areas at Range 2 were remodeled to add more vehicle maintenance bays and to include better storage of parts and tool inventory. Two Spray Buildings were constructed – one at Main and one at Long Road – to use for the storage and mixing of chemicals used in the production of the plants as well as those used for pesticide and disease control. Important procedures and training classes were established for all workers in compliance with the Workers’ Protection Acts (WPS). And in this year, also, the above-ground fuel tank storage facility was built at Range 3 to comply with EPA regulations.
On August, 1992, Willoway hosted the 25th ANNUAL GREEN INDUSTRIES FIELD DAY. The Field Day event serves as a summer trade show where people have fun while learning important information about growing procedures and equipment development. Over 200 exhibitors registered for the 1992 event and more than 1500 persons attended. This was the year the first ever Skid Loader Rodeo was held with various dealers contributing equipment that was put through an obstacle course to show handling and maneuverability. The Extension Service demonstrated the calibration of lawn and nursery equipment during the day and Wlloway provided wagon tours of the container and field nurseries and walking tours of the greenhouses and propagation facilities.
In November 1990, Les and Marilyn were proud to meet their newest grandchildren, when Tom and Barb’s twins, Karen and Eric, were born. They soon were seen around the nursery as they followed Mom on her daily chores and visited the Flower Show Gardens with Dad, beginning at a very young age. Karen worked part-time in the accounting office until she graduated from Kent State and went on to her current position in Wisconsin, using the computer skills she learned at Willoway. Following graduation, Eric joined the Nursery staff as a full-time employee working wherever needed in the Physical Plant Department and since he obtained his CDL License. He also drives between Huron and Avon shuttling plants or delivering plants to Columbus.
Chapter 6: 1994 – 1998
By the mid 90’s the nursery had approximately 750 acres in production. The major emphasis was then directed to improving irrigation facilities, implementing updated growing techniques and improved shipping procedures, while continuing to produce quality plants All of this required major capital dollars be spent for equipment, buildings and irrigation reservoirs, pumps and infrastructure.
One of the major projects started in the mid-90’s was known as ‘Pot-in-Pot’. As we began to move tree and shrub production from fields to containers, one of the largest problems was keeping the taller plants standing upright after strong winds and storms. Crews were spending more and more time just standing up the plants. We tried staking and even created a string method to confine the plants to a growing space. Nothing worked! So it was then determined that we needed to move to the pot-in-pot method, even though it would require much additional capital to develop the infrastructure for each area. Excavation of a planting area is first prepared and drainage lines are placed in the area. A machine, built by our shop, pulls the irrigation and electric lines throughout the area and sets the empty containers that will accept each growing container and plant. Drip irrigation lines are placed in each pot for water and fertilizer needs. The excavated area with its infrastructure becomes a permanent capital expense. When the crops are ready for sale, the finished container-grown plant is removed and new plants are then set in the same area and grown for the next year. This procedure is now used for many of our larger plants and pot-in-pot areas are found on most farms as a part of their production plans.
The largest reservoir to this date was constructed on the Long Road Farm in 1995-96. Sized at 4.5 acres, it was also designed by Soil and Water Conservation Service with the capability of controlling and recycling 80-90% of run off water.
Barns were constructed at each farm to be used for the type of production assigned to that farm. Canning machines are located where needed and barns insulated to act as a cooler were constructed for holding bare-root liners. With these facilities, canning and/ or transplanting of bare-root liners can be done during the winter months. The planted containers are stacked and kept in the cool area until the weather warms up and they can be moved to the growing areas. Production schedules can continue for most of the year with these type of facilities. Office buildings with lunchroom facilities were built where needed and pumping stations had to be constructed by each reservoir. And with the increased production more skid-steer loaders, fork lifts, tractors and wagons were added to the equipment inventory. Each farm is now connected to the main computer and phone systems through the wonders of today’s electronics and, along with the continued use of high-band radios and cell phones, employees are able to use the communications that are ever important to their day- to-day work schedules.
The greenhouses continued to expand due to the increased propagation of plants for the nursery. Through a period of on-going testing and trials, the greenhouse staff is now able to propagate in-house, many of the tree and shrub varieties of the liners we grow on that previously were purchased from other growers. This allows us to produce the varieties we want to grow and, with cuttings taken from our own stock, we are assured the plant stock is healthy and we can start the propagation cycle with uniform cuttings.
While we have always worked at building as much of our equipment as possible, the Vehicle Maintenance and Physical Plant Departments continue to design and build equipment for special needs. Along with the many wagons pushed out of the shop each year, the staff has built tree lifts, bare-root tree racks, planters and trimming machines used for liners. During this time, we began to install and upgrade every facility with generators to provide the power required to keep machinery operating during power outages. And the employees in this department construct, re-build and repair greenhouses, hoop houses and help with all the covering of the storage houses for the winter.
In December, 1994, the Goodyear Conservation Farmer of the Year Award for Lorain County was presented to the Demaline Family and Willoway Nurseries. Our nomination by the Lorain County Soil and Water Conservation District was a testament to our continued efforts to work at maintaining the stewardship of the soil and water resources entrusted to us. The projects that were considered for this award included the upland reservoirs at the Main Nursery and the fact that we were capturing our run-off water from the production areas and directing it to the ponds for recycling. As each new farm area was developed and new reservoirs were built, we adopted the same procedures for reclaiming and recycling water.
In August, 1998 we agreed to be the host nursery for the 31st Annual NGLCO Summer Field Day. For the event, Willoway employees set up a model garden center in the covered loading dock for the benefit of our smaller retail customers. Ian Baldwin, a nursery business consultant from Great Britain and the late Elizabeth Preedy, a Willoway Sales Person, featured a program advocating ways local garden centers could create attractive displays of their products and elevate their stores to a higher quality of shopping. Hundreds of exhibitors brought in equipment to demonstrate along with vendors of plants and craft displays. Wagon tours were available for touring of the main nursery and bus trips were offered to the attendees to tour the Long Road Farms and the new growing areas in Huron. The entire staff of Willoway employees were assigned to help in many ways. All employees were involved in this very large event from parking cars to answering questions, to leading tours and keeping the trash cleaned up. A catered lunch and evening meal was offered in part of the loading dock area and the featured motivational speaker for the evening was Rocky Bleier, who formerly played for the Pittsburgh Steelers. It was quite an event that was enjoyed by more than 1500 people and vendors on a beautiful summer day.
While we have not hosted any more Field Days since 1998, we continue to offer tours to smaller groups from Vocational Schools and Trade Associations.
Mentioned from time to time have been a variety of plant patents and trademarks that the nursery has acquired. The most well-known Trademark that is still marketed today is for the WHIPPER SNAPPER tree program. Some years ago our customers had a need for a tree that could be handled by a single person in a garden center plus an inexpensive tree that cities could use in municipal street plantings. Willoway’s answer to that was the WHIPPER SNAPPER program. Developed with these situations in mind, the program has proved to be highly successful. Using new techniques of a branched tree in 1” to 1 1/4” caliper in the most popular tree varieties, either shade or flowering, we were able to produce a competitively priced tree in a 22” ball with rot-proof burlap and a wire basket to hold the soil ball firmly. The WHIPPER SNAPPER trees are now grown in the pot-in-pot production. The program was named by founder, Les Demaline, and when asked where he came up with the name, he replied that when he was younger he had always been a fan of Gene Autry radio programs and movies. He especially liked the character played by Gabby Hayes who called the young cowboys, WHIPPER SNAPPERS, which is defined by Webster as an informal, old-fashioned term for a younger person who annoyed older people by being very confident and acting like someone important. According to Webster’s dictionary the term is synonymous with dwarf, half-pint, and light-weight. (Seems an appropriate name for the program, don’t you think?)
By 1998, we believed we had outgrown our SLICE computer and the search was begun to find a system with software that could better track our inventory. Once the decision was made to go with the ABECAS system, we found our job had just begun. It took many months to convert accounting files from one system to the other, not to mention the work that was put into establishing the inventory for the many thousand plants we were growing at that time. But somehow, with strong perseverance and determination of Willoway employees, we were able to go live by spring 1999.
In 1998, unable to hire enough seasonal workers, Willoway Nurseries applied for the Department of Labor Federal H-2A program. This allowed us to hire the more stable and reliable work force required to carry on the seasonal work during the growing seasons. We have continued to rely on this program annually and greatly appreciate the dedication and hard work of all the H-2A workers who have worked at Willoway each growing season for more than 15 years.
Chapter 7: 1999 – 2003
While “kicking off” our 45th year, it became evident that the expansion of the Willoway growing facilities, would now require that time be taken to carefully review our shipping procedures. Most of the customer orders were shipped from the Avon farm, but many plants had to come from Long Road and the Huron Farms so they had to be shuttled back to Avon to assemble the orders. Plants were also shuttled from one farm to another for transplanting. To accomplish these additional activities required that we have adequate equipment; such as, semi-tractors, trailer vans to include dry and reefers, and flatbed trailers along with properly trained and licensed CDL drivers. In addition to our fleet we used independent drivers and rigs, rented additional trailers, and worked with a variety of trucking companies in order to meet our shipping obligations.
In the early days, we thought that loading 3 semi- trailers a day was a “good day’s work! As the number of orders increased and the season for shipping became longer, each part of the order processing and loading and shipping procedures were thoroughly reviewed. A priority was developing a method of determining how many orders would fill a semi- trailer. Department Managers and Supervisors including Keith Balduff, Jeff Lee, and Mark Shelton, put their heads together and broke down the saleable inventory to assign a unit value to all the saleable container and field stock. A UNIT VALUE was comprised of the type of plant, its height, width, branching characteristics and size of container or ball size. Using this method, units were actually assigned to the plant while it was in inventory. This information would then be part of the actual order and approximate truck space would be determined before trucking was scheduled and assigned.
To improve the efficiencies of pulling orders, 24’ self-tracking wagons were built that would accommodate steel shipping pallets. The wagons would be loaded in the nursery and brought to the docks where the pallets were unloaded with fork lifts, before loading the plants onto trailers. In many cases plants are lean-stacked in the trailer, but in some cases we have rack systems that are used. If you have an opportunity to watch any part of the loading process you will notice a very busy, well-organized group of employees working to check in the plants to determine the quality, variety and quantity matches the paperwork before the plants are loaded onto the trailer. Every effort is used to see that the plants that have been carefully nurtured and grown will be received at the customer’s location in the good condition.
Great efforts were put into developing a few different methods of trailer loading, taking into consideration the type of plants and the delivery locations. Besides lean-stacking, some shelving methods are used, also. Today we are shipping to customers in about 25 states and always looking for better and more efficient ways to do this!
A residence adjoining the main nursery, purchased in 2003, was refurbished to become the Nursery Sales Office. Fully equipped with a phone system and computers, the Sales Staff, Marketing and Order Entry personnel were moved to this location. The space vacated at the Main Office was turned over to the Inventory Manager and data entry staff, nursery stock purchasing and accounting.
Beginning in 1998, a project was undertaken to transform the 2+ acres in front of the main nursery just north of the driveway. For years this land was used to grow a variety of conifers including the Picea pungens “moerheimi” blue spruce, of which some remain in the garden area today. Those spruce were actually grafted by Les and Tom and grown to maturity by the nursery. Most of the plants left in the area were dug out and a display garden was designed around a water feature with waterfalls. The pond actually is a holding area for water that was pumped from the ditch that fronted the property to be recycled back to the main pond areas to re-use for irrigation. When the ditch was filled in and covered in later years, we were able to maintain a connection to the drainage tiles to continue pumping from the ditch source. The water wheel structure which was used in a Cleveland Flower Show Display Garden, actually contains the pumps that make this all work. The gardens were designed to include many varieties of shrubs, trees, perennials and annuals to create a pleasant garden display that is used by many to photograph bridal parties or family photos.
Chapter 8: 2004 – 2009
Beginning with our annual nursery catalog and price list in early 2004, we recognized the fact that Willoway Nurseries, Inc. was indeed 50 years old. The trade show booth at the CENTS Show in January was designed to emphasize the anniversary and to show case new plant introductions for the coming season. We helped introduce the new, ever-blooming “Endless Summer” Hydrangea from Bailey Nursery and the exciting collection of Clematis from Raymond J. Evison that year. As we discussed in past chapters, we have always worked at maintaining production of quality plants, but we also saw the need for marketing and distribution of the product just as important to being a successful business. From its inception, Willoway was part of the alliance known as Novalis Marketing Group that was formed to select and introduce quality plants for the individual needs of independent retail garden centers and landscapers located in the Northern half of the Eastern USA. Following the demise of the Novalis Group, Willoway retained the “Plants That Work’” program that continues today to bring new or value-added plants to the same group of independent retailers.
In early 2006, a major decision was made by the Demaline Family to build a new greenhouse facility in Erie County on property already owned, known as the Ward Farm. This became the most ambitious, expensive, but exciting project undertaken by this 50 year-old company. The entire project required the hiring of several sub-contractors, purchasing a wide variety of new equipment, the education and re-learning of new growing techniques available with the new equipment, and compliance with regulations that became a part of this project. And establishing a very short time-line for construction that was specified, so not to lose a crop year due to shutting down the old facilities while having everything up and running at the new location, became a major challenge. Many facts entered into the decision to proceed with this move, but in the end it was agreed that while the move was aggressive, it would be a great advantage for the future if we would be able to grow and propagate our greenhouses crops more efficiently using the newest cost-saving technology. At the time the cost of heating fuel was so volatile that it was difficult to prepare a budget for this most costly item. The 5 acres of older glass houses were not efficient in this modern economy due to the old, original construction. Operating the 5- acres in 4 locations decreased efficiencies even more, as the additional cost of labor for growing and shipping from the different locations increased operation costs. The largest positive factor for moving to one location would contain all the greenhouse functions under one roof. Also, all of our old heating plants were so aged and inefficient, that by installing the bio-mass boiler, we would have more options in the choice of heating fuel. The new construction would provide efficient and improved glass houses with new computerized technology and equipment which would greatly increase efficiency and plant quality. New equipment definitions were quickly learned such as BOOMERANGS that created a second tier of usable space to use for hanging baskets and 19 cm pots that could be hung from specially designed metal hangers. They also allow for loading, unloading and watering the pots on the line at one end of the greenhouse for added efficiency. IRRIGATION BOOMS are used for overhead watering/fertilizing of crops or misting of cuttings that can be done automatically. The booms allow growers to observe crops easily and they can be raised to allow for different crop heights. Designed to accept injectors for specialty fertilizer or pesticide applications, the Booms are equipped with hand water valves and hose for spot watering when needed. FLOOD FLOORS are used for watering/fertilizing the root zones of crops. The watering is automated using the Argus computer system that can select from three water sources – Nutrient 1, 2 or clear water. Water loss due to evaporation is limited. The water moves from holding tank to flood pit, is pumped to flood zone where it is held to permit plant up take and then is transferred via gravity back to a waste pit. From there, after it is filtered, it is transferred to the flood tank so that the water can be reused. The IRRIGATION ROOM is built over a series of cisterns. Four primary tanks hold an average 20,000 gallons each, a Flood Tank and a Waste Tank each hold 4,500 gallons. Using city water fed into the system, the water is conditioned based on set points entered by the Grower. Tanks can be filled at designated time or “on demand” as programmed through Argus. The water/fertilizer used in the Greenhouse is pumped under pressure throughout the range. BLACKOUT CURTAINS are used primarily as an insulation blanket on cold nights. Programmed to close on cold nights about dusk, they will open in 3% stages after sunrise. Typical temperature differences at the greenhouse peak -above the curtains- may be 26 degrees while the house -below the curtains- will be 60 degrees with an outside temperature of 10 degrees. There is a budgeted 30% savings using these curtains during the winter heating season. The curtains are also used to trick seasonal plants into blooming such as garden mums or during poinsettia season to eliminate “light pollution” from various outdoor light sources. VERTICAL WALL CURTAINS are used like the black-out curtains but on the inside of the exterior walls of the greenhouse. SHADE CURTAINS also add a layer of insulation to limit effects of natural sun on crops. They can shade up to 40% and when closed, provide an additional 10% heat savings and operate automatically based on time of day, light level, and temperature. The GREENHOUSE STRUCTURE is comprised of 6 growing zones and is designed with an open roof to allow for a one degree temperature between inside and outside on a hot day. The ventilation is achieved through the roof opening which is operated to open and close using the Argus system which uses values from a weather station that reads temperatures, light and detects wind speed and rain. The HURST BIOMASS BOILER provides the primary heat by burning waste wood. In a typical winter the boiler will burn approximately 120 loads of chipped wood; each containing 100 yards of chips. Mechanized fuel management using specialty equipment moves the fuel through the furnace so that the clean smoke goes out the 75’ smoke stack at an acceptable rate established by EPA tests. The boiler is controlled through the computer and has remote access. Back-up heating systems are provided by 2 gas-fired package boilers controlled by Argus, a 350 HP Kewanee and 400 HP Hurst boiler, are all “on Line” if a back-up heat source is needed.
A THERMAL STORAGE TANK provides storage of 203 degree heated water to add hot water to the cold return water as a fuel-efficient measure and the ARGUS ENVIRONMENTAL CONTROL SYSTEM has the ability to control the entire environmental system on site as well as off-site. The facility and equipment is programmed for various types of alarms which call out, if there are problems.
The pole barn building attached to the greenhouse holds an Urbinati Needle Transplanter, Automated Propagation/sticking Line, a canning line and an Agrinomix soil mixing line. All the crops can be staged and loaded for shipping within this facility.
Crops that are grown at this greenhouse facility include Spring Flowering Annuals, Succulents, Herbs and Vegetables, Tropicals, Perennials, Ground Covers, Winter Forcing for Garden and Trade Shows, Fall Color Crops such as mums, pansies, etc., Poinsettias and Propagation of 3 million cuttings annually for Willoway Nurseries.
Attached to the glass range is approximately one acre of poly covered, heated, growing houses that are also heated by the bio-mass boiler.
Following the completion of the new greenhouse in Huron, the greenhouses at the Sheffield location were taken down. The remaining greenhouses at the Main Nursery are now used for perennial production.
Chapter 9: 2010 – 2014
As we complete our journey through history, the events and projects discussed in this chapter bring us up to October, 2014. During this time, challenges brought on by economic volatility tested most businesses. Nurseries were not excluded. Strong competition was present at every turn and banking regulations made it necessary for all businesses to carefully review credit terms offered to our customers to assure we would receive payment. Budgets were carefully prepared so that expenses could be monitored and controlled. It was also the right time to review growing techniques in order to assure that we maintained the plant quality we had strived to achieve for over the past 60 years. Growing efficiently, reducing the percentage of scrap, and gaining the ability to price our plants fairly and competitively were procedures that quickly moved to the forefront. Introduction of new plants and/or plant varieties was extremely important to maintain a lead in the competition from other growers. The last 5 years have been dedicated to working toward improving all the previously accepted standards of growing, inventory, selling, purchasing, shipping and all other aspects of operations, not specifically listed.
Investments of capital and time were spent on rebuilding or upgrading many of our growing facilities. Significant improvements on the R-2, R-3, S-3, S-4, and W’s sections at the Main Nursery were completed including installation of a large water main to service the open-roof greenhouse and make it available for year-round growing. In Huron, new Sections were constructed and/or re-worked on the Ward Farm, Darrow Road South and Lakeview North. Drainage was improved on the Lakeview South Farm.
Facilities and equipment were installed at all farms for the purpose of improving the practice of monitoring and adding nutrients and fertilizers to the irrigation water pumped to the growing areas. The installation of injectors and storage tanks for the chemicals allowed the growers to add and monitor 12 essential elements necessary for optimum plant growth.
Wireless communications were installed at the Long Road farm to improve the timeliness and more efficient transmission of both data and audio between Long Road Departments and the Main Nursery.
Additions to equipment included a turbine pump for Long Road, a 45” Dutchman Tree Spade for the Huron Field Department, Millermatic Welders for Physical Plant Departments at Main and Huron and a Bigfoot baler to use to bale the used poly covers as they are removed each spring from the hoop houses. The baled plastic is then offered “FREE” to anyone who can re-use it in various ways. This has proved to be a great, economical method of recycling this product.
One of the greatest changes I have witnessed in our company is that of publishing our annual catalog. Probably memorable because I worked on catalog and price list projects for more than 50 years. Beginning with the mimeographed 4-page price lists to the nearly 100-page printed and bound 8 1/2 by 11” full sized book with colored pictures and detailed plant descriptions, the time spent from beginning of the preparation of collecting the availability and correct sizing and pricing to the actual editing for the printer and ending with the mailing of the catalog could take from 2-3 months. Publishing and mailing costs continued to increase, so in the last several years the catalog has been moved to the electronic version that we now offer via our web site. The greatest asset of the electronic catalog is that the in-house staff has complete control of the web site and can make additions and changes on a regular basis. And the web site allows our customers access to current information about the inventory, at any time. The Marketing, Inventory and IT staff, Danny Gouge, Vince Zelenka and Dan White, do an outstanding job of working together to maintain the web site and keep it current and fresh so that it in turn provides a great tool to our salesmen as well as appealing to a large customer base.
Our Family - Les, Marilyn, Tom and Cathy - extend a Great Big Thanks to everyone for your part in allowing us to celebrate an AWESOME 60 YEARS!
As we look back on the History of Willoway, our beginning in 1954 was small, but exciting. After the time spent revisiting the past 60 years in 2014, we were able to enjoy the review of the progress and accomplishments of our company. Now as we begin the 6!st year, we are so PROUD to share our excitement with the entire Willoway Staff as they continue their dedication and hard work on their way to what promises to be an exciting journey!
OUR THANKS TO EVERYONE FOR YOUR PART IN THIS INCREDIBLE JOURNEY!
Les and Marilyn Demaline
In 2013, when I began recording the history that made Willoway Nurseries what it is today, it was meant to be a documentation to share with our family. I determined that dividing the years into a chapter format would make it easier to complete. As I looked through a myriad of boxes and files that were, of course, not stored in any chronological fashion. I wondered many times why I wanted to do this. But by writing a chapter a month, we were able to share it with our employees, along with the family, by including it in our monthly newsletter, The WILLOGRAM. While Willoway Nurseries is a family-owned and operated business, our employees play a very large part in our success and they seemed to enjoy reading this compilation of history. In 2015, we began to plan our 60th Wedding Anniversary Celebration, and it was suggested that we re-print the company history as it might be of interest to our family and friends, too.
Since 2014, the company has continued to follow the path begun with the implementation of the Great Game of Business concept. The dedication and hard work of the employees have made this a very successful adventure. Throughout this past year, with the cooperation of all the departments, employees were able to earn bonus payments made possible by their working together for a stronger bottom line.
2015 brought to the table the opportunity to further discuss and develop goals for the future by proposing and documenting Visions. All employees were able to contribute to this step of the Great Game of Business. The Visions of all the departments were presented to the entire staff at the Annual Christmas Lunch in December.
As we work to maintain our place in the horticultural industry as the number one Wholesale Production Nursery in Ohio, our employees are eager to learn and practice another new concept in 2016 called, Winning With Accountability. As we move forward, we will continue to make changes and improvements, by implementing new technology and growing procedures that will enable our company to produce and sell quality plants and deliver them to our customers with timely and quality service.