Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Birth of The Acorn Tree-25 years

This year, The Acorn Tree is proud to celebrate it's 25th year of business. Looking back the last 25 years seems to be a big blur of people, of places of memories . Like most people, my business , The Acorn Tree, has become a part of who I am as a person. I am reminded of this when I go to Walmart and cash a business check and the cashier says "Thank you Mr. Acorn, for shopping at Walmart."
I have noticed lately that where ever I go I don't feel entirely dressed if I am not wearing an Acorn Tree shirt. In fact my grand daughter. Khloe, asked me if I had my shirt on backwards or wrong side out because she could not see the Acorn Tree logo on a new shirt I recently purchased.
As I approach retirement age, I ask myself could I survive not being "The Acorn Tree Man". I have asked myself that many times over the years, especially when we discussed the possibility of closing the shop door and getting a "real" job, as my brother used to say.
My faith, my family, my personality are so intertwined with my business that I am quite sure if this was taken away from me tomorrow, I would end up in the "loonie bin", as if I don't need a little visit there anyway.
If you were to trace the origin of my business, I supposed you would need to go back before 1985, back to the 1950's when I started working in my Dad's shop in Rushville. He was a Mr. Fix it right up to the day he died. Sweepers, Washers, electrical, plumbing, whatever he found broken, he managed to screw, bolt or duct tape together. Before I could look over the counter, I stood along side him, after school, sweeping, inventorying, crawling under houses, holding his flashlight. I found a picture this week of his front window that I had set up and decorated with antiques for an "old fashion days" sale. In one of the early shops, there were several over the years, I built a small "photo studio" with my little Kodak Brownie camera and some sheets for a backdrop.
Probably another sure sign that I would eventually end up where I am was my after school adventures. This was even before working in my Dad's shop. I lived in a neighborhood where there were lots of kids but I was shy and could never seem to find a "best friend". My mom worked so I was a latchkey kid most of the time. While the neighbor kids were playing ball, I was setting up a lemon aid stand. Of course my stand would usually evolve into a "restaurant" with cookies and peanut butter sandwiches and anything else I could sneak out of mom's refrigerator. I would also put together many circuses, once with a roll coaster fashioned from a long loading ramp, the kind with a series of "roller skate" wheels that I "borrowed" from the neighborhood grocery. I sold the miracle suave from the back of a magazine, the kind you send away for and are guaranteed to become a millionaire over night.
Not sure if this counts as a business but I remember my older brother paying me to leave while he "entertained' a girl at the house after school. I took the money and quickly rounded up the neighbor kids and charged them to peek in the window as my brother "necked" on the couch. "necking" back than was a big deal. I am sure this was the first sign that I was destined to be an business person.
I was the last of three sons, growing up in a family that was supported by my Dad's business and the minimum wage my mother made working in sales. I was not aware at the time but money was often scarce, when business was down. My dads big heart often meant customers would get their repairs for free or on the payment plan. By the time I graduated from High School, things were better and mother insisted that I go somewhere to school. She would have insisted that my brothers go also to college but their circumstances were such that this would not happen.
Knowing that college was expensive, I choose International Business college, in Fort Wayne. After all somewhere buried deep in my personality, I knew I would some day be in business of some sort. I always knew I was not interested in my Dad's business, I was never a "fixer". My interests lie in the visual and the creative side of living and in service to others. I remember, when I came home after school, pretending to entertain guests and imagined throwing parties for my parents and my family. In college I somehow became the chairman of the decoration committee for the annual school dance. It was held in the Scottish Rite building in Fort Wayne and was one of my proudest successes in life and was done like I had been doing events all my life.
When I graduated from school I was hit face first with the Viet Nam war. As long as I was eligible for the draft no employer would even talk to me. I quickly choose to try and beat the draft by joining the Air Force. The summer of 1967 was one of the longest in my life as I spent it waiting to go into the Air Force in the fall, fearing that I would be drafted before that. Sure enough I got my notice to take my army physical in June or July. My recruiter hurried up my paperwork and I got to basic training in San Antonio just in time. I can only imagine how my life would have changed if I had been drafted into the army.
It was not long after I joined the air force until I was decorating USO dances and helping to set up parties and programs. I designed a float for the Rome New York Festival parade. When I was finally sent to Viet Nam in 1970 I was again in charge of decorating the stage for the big day when Miss America would come to entertain the troops.
When I got home from Viet Nam, Joyce and I settled in Greenfield, Indiana. I became a loan office manager. This was not my favorite job but it put food on our table and taught me a lot about people and myself. Calling to collect unpaid bills, repossessing furniture and cars, all made a big impact on me.
Later I came to work for a mom and pop jewelry store, Miller's Jewelry Store.. When Mr. Miller came to me and offered me a job and an opportunity to someday take over his business, I was completely caught off guard. What in the heck did I know about jewelry The only jewelry I had ever purchased was Joyce's wedding set , that I got from the Base Exchange. I did buy rings for myself as a teenager from my uncle in Rushville, but I knew nothing about diamonds and gold.
I was convinced that the only thing I possibly could offer Mr. Miller was decorating his front window. I took the job and eleven years later was proud to be thought of as a jeweler and diamond appraiser. This job became my ideal occupation. I felt like I thrived and flourished. I learned to buy and appraise jewelry. I learned so much from Mr. Miller and his vast experience in business and was certain my life was complete. That was until Mr. Miller's family stepped up and became interested in the business and almost over night the "adopted son and daughter" that Joyce and I had become seemed to evolve into the "step child" that had no place in the family. I was angry and disappointed but determined to somehow survive. I guess in my mind this was the actual birth of The Acorn Tree.
It was not until years later when the Jewelry store was ravaged with fire that I was reunited with Mr. Miller and all the anger and disappointment disappeared or at least was forgotten. After that and until his death we were close friends. He would almost always cry and concede his regrets for letting me go all those years ago and I would console him and remind him that I had no regrets or hard feelings and that starting The Acorn Tree was the right thing for me to do.
I remember as vividly as if it were yesterday, standing in the rear of the sanctuary of the First Baptist Church in Cumberland. It was Christmas time and the large Christmon tree was ablaze with tiny lights and hand made ornaments, each a different symbol of Christ.
It must have been a candle lite service as I remember all the Meyer Mill Oak lanterns being lite in the beautiful lead glass windows that engulf the whole sanctuary. It seemed even the oak pews, hand made by the Amish years before sparkled as a reminder of all the loving people that had set in them over the years. My heart was filled with such a spirit and I thought to myself, If I could just bottle this feeling, the feeling I got from seeing all the handcrafted things in our place of worship, it would make a great business and God would provide for our family.
.Why The Acorn Tree?? This was easy. Our best friends than and now are the Meyer's of The Meyer Mill Oak Lantern Company. Now evolved into Judy"s Oak Weddings. One of the first gifts Joyce gave me for Christmas that made me cry was one of their lanterns. After that we worked for them selling their products in homes or at the State Fair and decorating their window. We filled our home with oak and soon the symbolization of the might oak tree came to mean a lot of our family. Whether thinking of the tree or the tiny acorn, the symbols seemed to fit us as a beginning or seed to growing a business.
Our first shop was a wooden structure built by Alva Meyer on the sidewalk in front of his downtown building during Riley Days. Our second shop was in our home on East Street, first the side room and finally half of the living room. It was not long until we moved into the old Carnegie Li bray basement. Setting up shop not only seemed natural, I think I had spent my life preparing for this time.
Defining who you are as a business seems to be the most important part. After 25 years I am not sure I have done a great job of that. Our goal was to be a handmade , American made shop influenced by our faith in God. To this day when asked what The Acorn Tree is I still stumble with words and ideas.
I was still employed by Miller's Jewelry when my sister in law traveled from Rome, New York to Greenfield to pick out her engagement ring. It was not long after that she ask me to do her wedding flowers. After showing off my first attempt at making a bridal bouquet, I received a phone call from Mr. Miller's neighbor that said I hear you "do weddings" . From that first wedding in a little country church to the variety of locations I have seen in 25 years, I can't say this was less or more of a beautiful wedding.Each and every step from putting the flowers together to decorating the church to getting the bride down the aisle, seemed to be a natural gift from God. I ended up doing five weddings for this first family, some twice due to divorce.
My first weddings were decorated with Meyer Mill Oak Lanterns. To me it was a natural thing to do as I already felt that Alva's handmade oak was tied to my feelings of spirituality. In using only oak, I felt that I set myself apart from other florists, I had so many Meyer Mill products and soon ask Alva to make me a set of Abra's in oak. I still remember how disappointed and hurt I was the day the Meyers told me I could no longer use their oak for weddings. This was the end of oak Acorn Tree weddings but the beginning of Judy's Oak Weddings as it now has become. The wedding business has become a beautiful and integral part of the Meyer's business and I am sure many people would agree a great asset to our community.
Without the oak, I at first had thought of quitting. But soon I was encouraged to go on. At first creativity was a necessity. Two washing machine agitators painted green with electrical conduit from my dad's shop became an arch. Two medal coat racks became my candle abras. I rented equipment from Marjorie Ellis who now owns the Victorian Rose. It was with the help of a lot of good friends that I was able to go on with my wedding business.
The wedding business progressed on from there to be a major part of what The Acorn Tree finally became. I love the hand crafted gift business, but necessity and finances led us to pare down our inventory and concentrate our efforts on weddings and events and of course the tuxedo rental business.
When I look back and think about all the couples we have helped begin their married life , I am pleased and proud to have been even a small part of their lives. To me marriage has always been the ultimate worship service and to be allowed to be involved in the planning and presentation and celebration. has been a great source of joy. I have laughed and cried at so many weddings, each unique with memories standing on their own.
The worst I ever cried at a wedding was as I watched a beautiful bride walk down the aisle just days after her father had passed away. Another time I balled as I heard a young bride practice singing "wind beneath my wings" in the back room before she was to walk down the aisle and sing to her groom. Tears have never been a choice for me, they are just part of who I am I guess.
I could never pick out the most unique wedding. The wedding I did in a Villa in Galveston Texas was a highlight, but so was my children's weddings, each different, each unique in their own way. I have done Christian, Bahia, Hindu, Catholic, civil, gay Christian,. I have setup in the Greenfield Senior Center turning a sewing machine into an alter,, St Peters and Paul Cathedral, The Statehouse Rotunda, Scottish Rite Cathedral, Marriott's, Omnis, Sheridan's, Union Station, back yards front yards , living rooms, the Indianapolis Zoo, Conner's Prairie, Indiana, New york, Florida, each location unique on its own.
One of my favorite wedding stories was my sister in law's wedding in upstate New York. It was mid afternoon on the day of her wedding and I was at the pulpit practicing the songs I was to sing at the wedding. When I finished I turned around and started putting on the altar flowers I had brought from home. I noticed a couple setting out in the pews while I sang but did not think too much about it until the stood up and with a confused look ask me who I was. Was I the singer, the florist or what. I told them I was about to leave and go help set up the reception. But really I was their jeweler , I sold them their wedding rings. They laughed and of course still looked confused.
It has been easy, rewarding, fulfilling and , inspiring, to get to know people and share this most awesome time of their lives. I may not always remember the details of each wedding or even the names of the couple but I remember the smiles and the look of love that is shared on their wedding day.
I get sad when I think that someday there might not be The Acorn Tree. I don't say that in an arrogant way but in a proud way of knowing what I hope the name of my business means . When I think that I am my business and my business is me, I really think my business is more that me and has taken on a life of it's own. It is more and better than I can hope to be. I sometimes find myself feeling unworthy. I am nearly 63 years old and I think I have earned the right to question myself and my business. In my faith I have learned that being a good Christian is all about asking the questions and knowing full well that we can only have faith that God has the answers . In business I am not always as good about asking the questions. I am not sure I always want to hear the answers.
I believe that our country was founded on the principals of small business. I believe that you must be a little crazy to own your own business but I believe that it is Crazy with a Capital "C" and I would not want to be any less crazy. I am not the very best example of a business that has been outstandingly successful, but in my own way I am successful and hopefully will continue to be a good example of what it means to be self employed. Like I said before, owning your own business can be overwhelming and totally consuming and yet rewarding and fulfilling. Twenty five years have come and gone too quickly just as my sixty three years have. If I were to give one piece of valuable advice , don't put off starting that business or that painting or that book you have always wanted to write. Do all the things that you dream about now. I guarantee you that your life will speed by just as mine has.

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