This month the floral company is celebrating a century of being in business in Greencastle. Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels recently honored Eitel's during the annual Governor's Century and Half Century Business Awards ceremony at the statehouse.
"These companies are the foundation of economic growth for our state. Home-grown Indiana companies like these provide the stability and longstanding community involvement hat typifies our traditional Hoosier values," said Gov. Daniels as he presented the award.
The award honors companies that have remained in operation for 100 or 50 years and that have demonstrated a history of community service.
Current owner Ken Eitel is proud of his heritage and with his family's long association with Greencastle and as business operators.
"Our resilience stands on the shoulders of those who took risks and had a vision for a better life and community," noted Eitel in accepting the award with his sister, Joanna Eitel Batchelor.
"In today's business climate, encouragement can be gathered from the many challenges faced by our ancestors," he continued.
Ken tells of his family who came to America from Schornweisach, Bavaria, Germany in 1860. This is an area known for horticulture and flowers.
"That was about the time Prussia was taking over in Germany. They first went to Columbus, Ohio where my great-grandfather had a brother. They lived in area surrounded by three breweries in a three-block area. He was a brewer in Germany," explained Eitel.
Eventually, the family moved to Indianapolis and then to Greencastle.
When John Eitel first considered locating his floral business in Greencastle, he moved from Indianapolis, purchasing three large greenhouses on Melrose Avenue, along with 13 acres.
He specialized in cut flowers, but also had interest in growing vegetables, selling at retail and wholesale. In fact, John developed a special pink carnation that was sold all over the country.
The retail portion of the business continued for five years at the Melrose site located adjacent to the Eitel's residence. The home was later relocated to Higert Street, where it remains occupied today.
In 1913, the retail division was moved with the purchase of a greenhouse at the corner of Vine and Franklin streets. (This is the current location of NAPA Auto Parts). At this time, the business added John's son, Jacob, to the floral company. Jacob joined the firm after gaining experience working in Indianapolis at other floral shops.
In 1926, this property was sold and Eitel's Flowers relocated to the south side of East Washington Street in Greencastle.
John died that same year at the age of 66.
The company operated the wholesale and retail greenhouse during WWI and the roaring 20's. The retail operations moved during this period to the building where Fine Print Bookstore is now.
Jacob was active in the community serving with the Red Cross, Chamber of Commerce, Rotary Club and as a member of the First Presbyterian Church as an Elder and Deacon.
"His business career spanned two world wars, the roaring 20's, great depression and many other historic happenings," said Ken.
Later came Eitel's father, Kenneth, Sr. He was born in Greencastle, attended DePauw and Purdue Universities and served in WWII. He returned to marry Elizabeth Spear and joined the family business in 1945. He, like his father before him was active in the community, DePauw Alumni Association and the Indiana State Florist Association.
Kenneth passed away in 1981 and his widow, Elizabeth "Tibby" continued to operate the business. She died in 2001.
Ken, Jr. and his wife Jacquelyn purchased the flower shop in 1981. Ken had worked in the shop as a small boy and teenager, but moved on to other things as he grew older. He spent 16 years in retail sales, sales management and advertising with the Horace Link home furnishings business in Greencastle.
When his mother decided to sell the floral business, Eitel's wife Jackie came to Ken and told him it was time to think about buying the company. They purchased it in 1981 and have continued to diversify and grow the business.
"It proved to be a great blessing," said Ken.
"Jackie is another one of those strong shoulders to stand on. She is able to make hard decisions that impact others lives. I always know she will be honest with me and helps me make the right decision. She keeps me humble," smiled Ken.
He has great memories of growing up playing in the greenhouses that were eventually demolished. He talks of catching crawdads in the creek that flows from the spring that provided water to the town. He spoke about a hill near Cassida Drive, which was flattened to make room for the houses for veterans returning from WWII.
"It was a great sledding hill. Everybody used to come and slide down it," said Ken. He remembers fields of flowers on Melrose Avenue, which was at the edge of town at the time he was growing up.
"Every year my grandparents made a sunken garden filled with red, white and blue flowers surrounding a flag," said Ken. The area was the foundation of the original house of his family.
He also recalls learning how to drive while working summers in the cemetery where his job was to fill graveside urns with dirt and flowers. He was 15 years old at the time and piloted the stick shift delivery truck through the cemetery.
Ken and Jackie have four sons Tony, Patrick, Adam and Jacob. All four boys have college educations and have created their own lives.
"I always told them to get their education and work for somebody else for at least five years and then make your decision. The opportunity is here for them if they want it," said Ken.
In April 2008, Ken appointed Jenny Sullivan General Manager of Eitel's. He continues as the principle partner of the company.
"As I've gotten older I've begun to appreciate some of the historic things that have gone on and appreciate the entrepreneurs and risk they took as business people," reflected Ken.
At age 62, he remains active in the business development for Eitel's, as he focuses on community building and an encore career teaching business classes for Ivy Tech Community College. His wife Jackie is continuing her career as a registered nurse and physician liaison for the Indiana Health Information Exchange.
Eitel's will host "100 Years of Celebrations" with a birthday party at the store on Oct. 17 and 18.
"I can't estimate the thousands of occasions we helped our customers celebrate over our 100 year history. We invite everyone to enjoy celebrating our heritage with us," said Ken.
Eitel's Flowers & Gifts is located at 17 Vine Street, Greencastle. They can be reached at 765-653-1565 or visit their Web site at www.eitelsflowers.com