100 years and still growing

Eagle Grove Greenhouse celebrating historic milestone

-Messenger photo by Chad Thompson Betty Wilde, an owner of the Eagle Grove Greenhouse, prepares a flower arrangement at the greenhouse.

EAGLE GROVE — It was 1917 when a man from Fulda, Minnesota, arrived to Eagle Grove with his family in a horse-drawn wagon to open the Eagle Grove Greenhouse.

One hundred years later, that man’s grandson, Clarence Wilde, and his wife, Betty Wilde, continue to operate that same greenhouse in the same location, 120 S. Iowa Ave.

“It’s a small community and we survived,” Betty Wilde said. “There’s people that have 100-year-old businesses, but to have it in the same family is kind of unusual.”

John Buhner, Clarence Wilde’s grandfather, was the man who founded the Eagle Grove Greenhouse. He arrived in Eagle Grove with a family of seven.

“It took them three days to come from Fulda,” Clarence Wilde said. “They located here because of the railroads. This was a railroad town.”

-Messenger photo by Chad Thompson Clarence Wilde, owner of the Eagle Grove Greenhouse, looks over a photo of the greenhouse in his office. Clarence Wilde said the photo was from the 1930s. A small photo in the bottom right hand corner of the frame shows a cousin of Wilde’s standing next to a truck that was once owned by the Eagle Grove Greenhouse.

Clarence Wilde said he believes someone living in Eagle Grove at the time enticed John Buhner to move to the area.

An excerpt from the Eagle Grove Times Gazette from Sept. 26, 1917, reads, “Mr. Buhner came here from Fulda, Minnesota, where he conducted a small greenhouse, but being desirous of getting into wider territory, he came to Eagle Grove with his family, arriving May 20. He has been a busy man since that time. He is a man of experience in the business, is a pleasant man to meet and we are sure he will make a great success in this city.”

According to Betty Wilde, the greenhouse was known especially for its carnations.

Buhner and his wife owned the greenhouse up until 1931 when Buhner passed away.

At that time, John Buhner Jr. and Clarice Buhner, along with Clarence Wilde’s parents, Laura Wilde and Cecil Wilde, entered into a partnership to run the business. Laura Wilde’s maiden name was Buhner.

-Submitted photo This photo shows the wagon owned by John Buhner, the founder of the Eagle Grove Greenhouse. It was taken in Fulda, Minnesota in 1917.

The office portion of the property was added next to the greenhouses in 1950.

In 1960, Cecil Wilde and Laura Wilde bought out Clarence Wilde’s uncle, John Buhner Jr.

“My uncle sold his share to my dad,” Clarence Wilde said.

In 1973, Clarence and Betty Wilde purchased the business from Cecil Wilde and Laura Wilde-Buhner.

They have run the business ever since.

-Submitted photo Clarence Wilde, owner of the Eagle Grove Greenhouse, center, the late Cecil Wilde, right, and Clarence Wilde’s son Chad Wilde, in the cab, are shown in this photo taken in 1981. Clarence Wilde purchased the greenhouse from Cecil Wilde in 1973.

“It makes us feel a part of history,” Clarence Wilde said. “Just a part.”

Owning the business has had its challenges, Betty Wilde said.

Shortly after taking over, the infamous 1973 explosion occurred on Broadway Street, just down the road from the Eagle Grove Greenhouse.

The explosion, known as “Black Friday,” killed 14 people. It completely destroyed two buildings and damaged two others.

“We were in the process of putting in new flooring at that time,” Betty Wilde recalled. “And just overnight we dropped everything so we could help downtown.”

Later in the 1970s, hailstorms damaged the greenhouses.

“One year we lost half of our glass on the greenhouses,” Clarence Wilde said. “And the year after we lost some more. We had back-to-back years of hailstorms that we weathered.”

Today, the greenhouse has more than 50,000 square feet of growing range, according to Clarence Wilde.

The Wildes are involved in wholesale and retail. They employ 10 full-time workers and about 15 part-time workers throughout the year.

Betty Wilde said she enjoys being in a business where she can use her creativity.

“We work with beauty,” she said. “We create all the time, working with flowers and creativity and the joy you see in people when you do something for them.”

Clarence Wilde said it’s the memories that he cherishes.

“It’s interesting to know the history,” he said. “We are still learning. In fact, people come in and make comments from years ago. That makes it memorable. People’s input makes memories. Memories are rewarding.”

The people have made running their business a joy, according to Betty Wilde.

“We have been here long enough, I know people’s moms and dads,” she said. “So you kind of grow up with the people here.”

“You watch these generations grow up,” she added. “When people call on Mother’s Day and ask to send something to their mom, I usually know who their mom is.”

Clarence Wilde said the secret to success is dedication and service.

“It’s a labor-intense business,” he said. “There’s certain things you can’t automate. You can’t push a button and have someone make a bouquet.”

Clarence Wilde said his son, Chad Wilde, is next in line to run the family business. Chad Wilde graduated from Iowa State University in 1991, earning a degree in horticulture.

To mark the100-year anniversary of the Eagle Grove Greenhouse, the Wildes are hosting an open house celebration on Friday. A ribbon-cutting will be held at 10 a.m.. Lunch will follow from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.