By Sharon Drahn, editor
The Postville Herald
JoEllen Foels has been brightening lives with flowers since she was a teen. A 1985 graduate of Postville High School, Foels got her first taste of the business while a senior in high school.
“Through the FFA work study program, I went to work for Kim Deering at the Wishing Well in downtown Postville,” said Foels. “I enjoyed the experience and went on to study floral culture at Kirkwood Community College, where I learned a lot about plants and flowers in the 12-month course.”
A Northeast Iowan at heart, Foels moved back to Postville after college and gained experience by working at various venues. “In the years following college I worked at the Wishing Well, The Waukon Greenhouse and Blooms on Main in Ossian,” she recalled. “I learned many skills along the way, as each of the owners had much to offer. Between Waukon and Ossian, I worked in floral design full-time for about eight years.”
Following marriage and a move back to Postville, Foels began working for Marilyn Curnow at the Country Garden Flowers and Gifts in downtown Postville. It was the decision that determined the course of her future.
“When Marilyn decided she was ready to retire, I took a leap of faith and bought the business,” said Foels. “I bought it in 1996 and Marilyn stayed on for about six months while employee Carolyn Smith continued to work with me. In the early days we had lots of giftware along with flowers and plants. We eventually moved to another building in Postville as it was better suited for our needs.
“I had great support during the early days in Postville,” Foels added. “I remember Jim Lage of Citizens State Bank (now Fidelity Bank and Trust) calling me ‘Petunia Flower Power’. It was a great place to start my career as a business owner as everyone was very kind and encouraging.”
Due to extenuating circumstances, The Country Garden moved to Decorah in 2002. Her current store location is 113 W. Water Street in downtown Decorah. She’s grown to love many aspects of the floral business over the years.
“I know this sounds crazy but I enjoy both doing wedding and funeral arrangements. I feel like funeral floral creations show love to help a grieving family cope. Flowers really do help people cope with whatever obstacles they face,” said Foels. “One of my suppliers has nicknamed me ‘The Crazy Flower Lady.’ She said she uses me as an example to her other clients when explaining the influence flowers can have in everyday life, especially during COVID-19.” She’s also been dubbed ‘The Doctor’ courtesy of KVIK’s Les Askelson, “because she can make anyone happy.”
Foels is quick to point out that there have been many changes in the business throughout the years.
“We have carried very little giftware the last several years,” she said. “We cannot compete with the big box stores.”
Another significant change is less in-person contact. “Now over 60% of our orders are computer generated. We don’t have the personal contact like we used to. I miss that personal contact,” Foels added.
Yet in a business governed by life events and the turning of seasons, some things remain the same. The holiday season, Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day are busy from start to finish. Fresh flowers, said Foels, are still the most popular choice when sending a floral gift for any occasion.
As she celebrates her 25th anniversary in the business, JoEllen is quick to point out she has had wonderful clientele throughout the years and couldn’t have done it without her family, friends and employees.
“My brother, James, has been my right-hand man and will do anything I ask him to help the business. Sherry Schultz has also been with me throughout my career. She does it all from delivery, book work, answering the phone and design. She always does whatever I need,” said Foels.
Foels also is grateful for the hard work of her daughter, Marissa.
“Marissa is graduating from Upper Iowa this spring. She’s helped me ever since she was a young girl. She has recently started her full-time job as the Allamakee County 4-H Youth Coordinator, but she has spent endless hours at the shop making sure things get done,” Foels noted.
The Country Garden Flowers and Gifts may be reached at (563) 382-1148, http://www.thecountrygardenflorists.com and on Facebook.