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History of AFE

Mission StatementAFE_logo_small_green_2011 copy 2 copy

The American Floral Endowment (AFE) is an independent nonprofit organization that funds research and scholarships in floriculture and environmental horticulture for the benefit of growers, wholesalers, retailers, allied industry organizations and the general public.


Colorful Gerbera Daisies1961: The Society of American Florists Endowment (SAFE) is incorporated. Six trustees administer the organization on a volunteer basis. Charles Pennock is the group’s first chairman, and his home in Pipersville, Pa., serves as the base of operations. John Henry Dudley is named treasurer. Contributor and financial records are maintained in his office at the John Henry Company on Lansing, Mich.

1965: Files and secretarial duties are turned over to Erma Houston (Cook), the executive director of the Wholesale Florists and Florist Suppliers of America. Houston is named assistant secretary, a position she holds until 1968.

1966: SAFE is granted an exemption from federal income tax, making contributions tax-deductible.

4787880797_e6205caed4_z1968: Records and secretarial functions are moved to the Society of American Florists’ (SAF) office. John H. Walker is executive director.

1973: The Endowment’s first national phone-a-thon is conducted, raising nearly $500,000 in cash and pledges. The fundraiser is conducted every five years through 2005. Betty Seitz Abrams becomes liaison between SAF and SAFE.

1973: George Staby, Ph.D., receives funding toward his research on the post-harvest cold chain, which ultimately results in the “Chain of Life” program. Gus De Hertogh, Ph.D., the Endowment’s research coordinator, calls this research “among the most important projects the Endowment has ever helped fund.”

1978: Florists’ Mutual Insurance Company – known today as Hortica Insurance – offers to digitally store Endowment contributor records at its headquarters in Edwardsville, Ill.

growerhighres1979: Abrams is named Executive Director. Operations are centralized at her home in Edwardsville until she retires in 1993.

1984: Trustees change the organization’s name to the American Florists Endowment.

1986: Trustees change the name again, this time to the American Floral Endowment.

1988: The Endowment announces it has awarded more than $2.2 million in grant funding since its inception. The Endowment’s corpus exceeds $3 million.

1992: Vic and Margaret Ball give $800,000 to AFE to provide internships and scholarships for students interested in pursuing careers in greenhouse production. The donation represents the largest in the group’s history at the time.

1993: The Trustees purchase a building as the headquarters for the Endowment in Edwardsville. At the time of Abrams retirement, Bob Stoeckl is hired as executive vice president. Scientific research and educational programs expand significantly.

1995: AFE establishes its website, The site is upgraded in 2001, again in 2010 and again in 2014.

1997: The corpus grows to about $9 million, and grant funding grows to about $5 million.

1999: Steven F. Martinez is hired as executive director. Gus De Hertogh, Ph.D., is retained as AFE research coordinator.

2001: In honor of former chairman Jim Botsis, the Endowment establishes the Jim Botsis Wholesaler’s Educational Program to benefit wholesalers. For the next 10 years, the Endowment gives $2,500 to the Wholesaler Florists & Florist Supplier Association for educational programming.

2005: Operations move to Hortica headquarters in Edwardsville, Ill. Hortica management assumes oversight responsibilities for AFE’s operations and staff.

2006: AFE and the Floral Industry Research and Scholarship Trust (FIRST) merge. AFE is now able to offer more than 18 additional scholarships. Industry veteran Sten Crissey is hired as vice president of development and industry relations. Julie Schottel is hired as administrator.

2008: Trustees transfer AFE management to SAF, and the AFE office is moved to SAF headquarters in Alexandria, VA. Longtime SAF staff member Debi Aker is named manager. In honor of her parents, Lee Phillip Bell gives $500,000 to establish the James and Helen Phillip Endowed Scholarship Fund. The fund supports young people who aspire to a career in retail floral design and operations.
biodegradable flower pots

2010: The market value of the Endowment corpus stands at about $10 million. Since 1961, the Endowment has funded $14 million toward research and provided more than $400,000 in scholarships and internships. The Endowment announces its first Paul Ecke Jr. MS/Ph.D. scholarship.

2011: AFE celebrates its 50th anniversary. Longtime AFE supporters Herman and LaDonna Meinders donate $250,000, creating AFE’s first unrestricted named fund. The Herman and LaDonna Fund contributes to AFE’s corpus and provides assistance for the industry’s most critical needs. AFE adds a communications specialist to its staff to help raise awareness about the Endowment.

2012: Teleflora presents AFE with a $1 million pledge, the largest in the Endowment’s history. The donation establishes the Teleflora Fund, an unrestricted fund allowing AFE to increase annual funding for additional research or special projects. Debi Aker is promoted to AFE Executive Director.

2013: AFE creates a new animated Awareness Video titled “Murder, Sex, Greed”.  Five new undesignated named funds (The FTD Fund, The Ecke Family Fund, The Mellano and Company Fund, The Olive Hill Greenhouses Fund and The Sunlet Nursery, Inc. Fund) and three new scholarship funds (the American Florists’ Exchange Scholarship, the Julio and Sarah Armellini Scholarship and the Richard T. Meister Scholarship) are created, bringing the total to more than 20 scholarships available. The market value of the Endowment corpus reaches more than $15 million. More than $15 million has been funded toward research benefiting the industry, and more than $600,000 has been funded in scholarships designed to attract and retain future industry leaders.

2014: Gus De Hertogh, Ph.D., retires after 15 years as research coordinator and Terril A. Nell, Ph.D. is appointed to the position. Five new named funds are established to advance the floriculture industry: The Todd Bachman Memorial Fund, The Del Demaree Family Fund, The Pennock Company Fund, The Tom Butler Family Fund and The Peter Ullrich/Esmeralda Farms Fund.

2015: The Young Professionals Council (YPC) was established to enable a vibrant group of 21- to 35-year-olds to learn more about the floral industry and contribute to the efforts of the Endowment. A new Business Internship Program was created to attract emerging business leaders to the floriculture and horticulture industries. The Endowment’s corpus exceeds $16 million. More than $15 million has been funded toward research and educational grants benefiting the industry, and more than $1.5 million has been funded in scholarships and internships designed to attract and retain future industry leaders.

2016: Eight new videos were created to spread awareness of AFE and its many programs, including the Vic & Margaret Ball Intern Scholarship Program. Five new named funds are established to advance the floriculture industry: The Yoshimi and Grace Shibata Family Fund, The Blackmore Family Fund, The Tagawa Family Fund, The BioWorks Fund and Carlstedt’s LLC Fund. The Endowment’s corpus exceeds $17 million.