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Coming Full Circle Leads to Life of Giving

This special article features AFE’s Legacy Circle Member, Sten Crissey, a long-time industry member who has been retired from the industry for 15 years. Sten resides in Seattle, Washington with his wife, Maryann.

Since he was big enough to push a broom, Sten Crissey spent his days growing up in the floral business.

His dad, James, had opened the Seattle-based Crissey Flowers and Gifts downtown in 1942, well before Sten came along. But once he did, the family business was in his blood. His mom, Aimee, handled the office duties, and his dad ran the shop. Sten jumped in where needed, and his responsibilities would grow as he did. He folded boxes, then handled deliveries, and by the time he was a teenager ready to graduate high school, he was a well-known face in the shop.

He would go on to graduate from the University of Washington, where he earned his BA degree in history. He had a strong interest in the past, but now he was looking at a future full of options. Surprisingly, none of those options at the time included the family flower shop.

“The only thing I didn’t want to do at the time was work in the family business,” he said.

Banking and Marriage

Sten’s path took him to the bank, where he landed a job in the credit department in 1968. It was a good opportunity, he thought. What he didn’t expect was that his biggest fortune in banking would present itself on his very first day on the job. 

It was the day he met Maryann.

“She was the best part of my banking experience. We started working at the bank the same day. At that time, there were not many women in management in any industry, but she was one of the first women management trainees at the bank,” he said.

Maryann was a French major who grew up in Wisconsin and ultimately wound up at the University of Washington. After attaining her Master’s Degree, she began working on her doctorate. But by this time, much like Sten, Maryann was looking to veer from the path she was on. 

That path not only led her to a successful career in banking that lasted for more than 50 years, but also to a marriage with Sten in 1974. She retired in 2022 as a senior loan officer who rode the wave of old-school banking through the modern era with a customer base that ran the gamut. 

A Return to His Roots

Sten describes his time working at the bank as a fortunate experience that allowed him to be in contact with a variety of businesses and industries. The biggest lesson he found was that there were never any rosy paths to success, no matter the appearances. Stresses and strains occurred for everyone.

As he sifted through financial statements at work, day after day, he reflected on his time after college graduation and his decision to take a new career route. It was becoming clear to him that he had turned away from the family business because he had been over-exposed to the challenges of the business while not fully appreciating the benefits.

“I think when you grow up in a family business, you can develop aversion because it becomes so familiar,” he said. “And when there is pain and strain and problems, the conversation comes home to the dinner table. Then you start to sense the trials.”

But two years of banking gave him a new perspective, and he decided to not let the fear of what could happen hold him back from where he wanted to be. So, after two years at the bank, Sten joined the family’s floral business.

Growing Involvement

Sten spent the following years learning the business alongside his parents. His father made clear there was more to doing business in the floral industry than what was happening inside his shop. He followed his father in becoming active in several state and national industry organizations. He served on committees for entities seeking to improve the future of every aspect of the business. For Sten, giving of his time and his resources, both expertise and monetary, was an important part of his career. He said that is the reason he and his dad embraced the work of the American Floral Endowment (AFE) since its inception.

“We were regular contributors to AFE and realized all gifts, large and small, helped,” he said. “If everyone would do a little bit, the Endowment, and by extension, the industry, would be just fine. You don’t have to stand back and wait until you can make a major gift.”

Sten said he saw the impact those contributions to AFE made over the years, so he felt honored to be invited to join AFE’s Board of Trustees. Over the years, he was a member of several committees, served as the planned giving specialist and was a chairman of the board. As an AFE trustee, he worked with other board members to ensure the contributions were put to the best use to promote and advance the industry through research, education, and programs like scholarships and internships to foster the next generation.

“AFE is unique in our industry. It is a simple fact that no other organization can or would perform the work AFE does. The research AFE funds creates better quality products, expands the variety of products, and develops production techniques to keep the cost of flowers lower than they otherwise would be,” he said.

“The board is made up of industry members with a vested interest in the industry’s success,” he continued. “In addition, their scholarship programs attract and encourage the most capable and educated college students into the field of floriculture.”

Leaving a Legacy

It was always the little things, Sten said, that would make his work fulfilling. He would go out of his way to make orders special — to comfort those in sad times and celebrate with others in good times. Serving customers and serving the industry were twin priorities, and in that regard, he was in lockstep with his father.

“My dad died in 1989. I couldn’t imagine how I could run that business without him. And it was at that point that I realized I had actually already been running the business. He was letting me make critical decisions,” said Sten. “He had been setting it up for me without saying anything and preparing me without me even knowing.”

Sten continued to operate the flower shop for another 17 years before he sold it and retired in 2006. In that time, he wrote a guide to Valentine’s Day preparation for florists, which the Society of American Florists (SAF) distributed. He served on the volunteer leadership team that provided all the inaugural flowers for presidents George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George H.W. Bush. He was inducted into the Floriculture Hall of Fame in 2004 and received the Paul Ecke, Jr. Award by SAF in 1996. He and Maryann enjoy retirement with their two sons and three grandchildren, all of whom live nearby in West Seattle.

After retirement, Sten continued his support of AFE. As mentioned, he joined the organization as a planned giving specialist, and in that time, he became a founding member of AFE’s Legacy Circle. He said the collaboration to begin the Legacy Circle was a way to encourage industry members to make planned gifts of any amount.  Such gifts can and should be made without jeopardizing a donor’s financial security or that of their heirs.

Moreover, the Legacy Circle honors everyone in the industry who supports the organization with planned gifts.

“Regarding those listed as Legacy Circle members, there isn’t one of those individuals that doesn’t bring back fond memories,” he said. “They are just wonderful people who value the industry, value what they gained from the industry, and continue to express their appreciation through their ongoing support of AFE. It is great to see their names and read their stories, but AFE needs many more industry members to step up and be counted with them.”

For more information about AFE’s Legacy Circle or how you can arrange for a gift to AFE, contact us at 703-838-5211 or afe@endowment.org.