Morning Sun
  • PATRICK'S PEOPLE: Generations continue to run Van Becelaere Greenhouse/Garden Center

  • There are still people who walk  into the Van Becelaere Greenhouse and Garden Center at 2513 E. Fourth and tell manager Julie Van Becelaere Ramage that they never realized the business was there.

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  • There are still people who walk into the Van Becelaere Greenhouse and Garden Center at 2513 E. Fourth and tell manager Julie Van Becelaere Ramage that they never realized the business was there.
    “Or they say that they thought we only did wholesale and didn’t sell to the public,” she said.
    Ramage is the fourth generation of the family to work in the business, which has always been in the same location since it was started by her great-grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. William Van Becelaere, who came to the United States from Belgium.
    “They had fields of crops and sold batches of soup vegetables in the mid-1940s,” Ramage said. “They had four children, and one of them was my grandfather, William Van Becelaere Jr.”
    He and his wife, Gertrude, had nine children, Bill Jr., Ed, Charles, Robert, Jenny Marie who died at 3, Rose Mary, Teresa, Butch (Richard) and Fred, Ramage’s father.
    “They all grew up in the rock house and worked in the fields and the greenhouses from early childhood,” Ramage said. “At that time the greenhouses were used to grow tomatoes and I think peppers, but mostly tomatoes. When Dad was 17, Grandpa decided he and Grandma could have one end of a greenhouse to grow plants in. Dad thought there was a market for plants, like veggies and a few flowers maybe, and he learned a lot from his mother when they started doing this. She knew her flowers and her foods. Grandpa, meanwhile, thought they were both insane and nothing would come of it. He always said, ‘People always gotta eat. They don’t have time or the money for stuff like flowers’. It turned out they did.”
    Her father worked for his father after high school for $30 a week, and he expanded the plant section even as they continued growing tomatoes, which were sold to grocery stores as far away as Kansas City and Springfield, Mo.
    “Grandpa would take the back seat out of his car and fill it full of tomato boxes for delivery, earning himself the nickname ‘Cadillac Bill’. One of our best customers, because one of the bosses had tasted our tomatoes and liked them, was Wolferman’s in Kansas City, a class A retail grocery.”
    Her father and her mother, the former Treva Guthrie, were married in 1961.
    “When my mom and dad were married, he got a raise to $1 an hour, which effectively doubled his earnings,” Ramage said. “My mother worked at the Pittsburg Headlight and helped out in the greenhouses after work, even though she couldn’t tell a weed from a hybrid rose. She has since learned.”
    She said that most of the grandchildren have worked in the family business at one time or another, mostly when they were young teens.
    Page 2 of 3 - “They were taught to work, to be on time, to do what they were told to do and do it quickly, and to come to work with a smile on their face,” Ramage said. “My brothers, Rusty and Scott, and I worked in the greenhouses when we were kids. I once planted a whole benchful of hanging baskets when I was less than 10 years old. All of us were taught that we worked for the things we wanted, and we saved our money for emergencies. It was a good lesson to learn so young.”
    She said that she has made some changes since becoming manager.
    “We now sell big loads of plants to Kansas City and other locations, and I’ve figured out the best way to load the trucks and make deliveries,” she said.
    Ramage has also been trying to make the business more visible by doing much more advertising than in the past.
    “I’ve tried to attract retail customers from surrounding towns by advertising and that is soundly working,” she said. “Our biggest improvement is our new shop, which we hope will attract a lot more retail customers with its easy access, comfortable check-out system and friendly staff.”
    The shop is housed in a new building.
    “We never had this building before,” Ramage said. “We worked out of a tent and a change purse. This building enables us to offer products that we couldn’t sell before because they might get wet or be out in the sun.”
    Her staff includes several knowledgeable people, including those who previously operated greenhouses of their own. Ramage said all are happy to share their knowledge with customers who have questions about plants and gardening.
    “It’s amazing what you can learn talking to the people here,” she said.
    Ramage has some pointers herself.
    “I don’t put in a garden myself, I use containers,” she said. “I plant jalapeno peppers, regular peppers, tomatoes and cucumbers in pots and grow enough to feed my family. I put them in the garage at night if it’s going to be cold. Right now we’re struggling with a late spring and people really want to get things in the ground. I say, go ahead but it probably won’t do anything. We have a saying in the business that it’s never too early to plant something the first time.”
    The last two summers plants have had to struggle with heat and drought, and Ramage suggests planting things that can deal with these conditions.
    “Good ones would purslane, vinca and rose moss, and you just can’t beat wave petunias,” she said.
    Ramage said she’s proud of being in the fourth generation to operate the greenhouses, and has hopes that a fifth generation will eventually step in.
    Page 3 of 3 - “My nieces and nephews might want to come in,” she said. “I have two children. My daughter is 17 and doesn’t like to get her hands dirty, but she wants to be a chef and cooks with fresh herbs grown here. My son, who’s 6, shows signs that he might want to be in the fifth generation.”

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