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Opening Doors by Giving Back

Over the past few months, we have been shining a spotlight on our donors and highlighting the unique and impactful industry stories of our Legacy Circle members. Our Legacy Circle is an honorary organization composed of persons who have made provision for a planned gift to AFE through a bequest, a life insurance policy, a trust or otherwise, such as a retirement plan beneficiary designation.

The Legacy Circle affords AFE an opportunity to extend our warm appreciation to individuals who notify us of their thoughtful gift intentions. As a part of these spotlights, we recognize Mike Novovesky and his impact on the industry. We welcome you to read about his journey and crucial role in AFE’s mission!

Opening Doors by Giving Back 

Mike and Flo Novovesky

As a young boy growing up in Union City, New Jersey, Mike Novovesky had no real vision for his future career. He just knew, even at the age of 10, that he loved to work. 

He delivered newspapers. He washed dishes in a bar. He worked at local gas stations. Any free time after school was consumed by work, including helping his mother clean up the yard and tend to the garden. 

“I have always loved the outdoors, and I always loved working with her. And then when I was in high school, I delivered flowers and worked in a greenhouse,” he said. “Did I know then I was going to be a horticulturalist? No. I just loved to work.”

His teenage job and those afternoons in the garden did, indeed, turn out to be precursors to a successful career in the horticulture industry for Mike. Now, at 86, he continues to share his achievements with other industry enthusiasts through the Mike and Flo Novovesky Scholarship through the American Floral Endowment (AFE).

High school wasn’t all work for Mike, who found a little time to take his girl, Flo, to the prom. The two grew up together and dated as Mike headed off to Germany in the Air Force. She was tired of waiting for a marriage proposal, he said, so she picked out an engagement ring and set off with a couple of friends to Paris to meet up with him. There she made the engagement happen, and the two were married when Mike was discharged from the service in 1960.

The newly-married couple settled back in New Jersey, where they opened a gas station. It was at the business where he met a few men who would help shape his future. 

“I had college professors who would come into the gas station, and we would talk,” he said. “They would encourage me to go to college. They suggested that I apply for outdoor courses in college. I liked camping. I liked the outdoors. I decided I would be a forest ranger.”

Mike was accepted to Colorado State University, and he and Flo moved out west for his undergraduate studies in horticulture, which he earned in 1968. He went on to earn his Master’s Degree in business management, marketing, and finance in 1969.

After college, Mike went to work for Yoder Brothers in Barberton, Ohio. At the time, the company was a large umbrella corporation that owned several other companies. Mike was hired as a market region manager, working with brokers and salespeople throughout upper New York State, all New England states, and Long Island, New York. 

“All I wanted to do was get a job that paid well. I was hired, and my office was right next to the vice president’s office. I was right up there with the people who were making it,” he said. “I really liked the job because I like to solve problems. Give me a problem to solve, and I really dig into it. I am always looking to learn something new.”

After two years at Yoder Brothers, Mike was given the opportunity to work with Chicago-based Vaughan’s Seed Company, a horticulture brokerage and wholesale supplier in the greenhouse and nursery industry. Eventually working his way up to vice president, Mike worked for Vaughan’s for 24 years before retiring after the company sold to a pharmaceutical outfit in 1994. He then became the executive director of FloraStar, a flowering pot plant trialing organization operating in greenhouses and universities across the country. He also started his own company, Allied Hort Sales, which he still operates today. 

Mike said the decisions behind each of the transitions he has made in his career were based on one thing – Flo’s opinion.

“Every move I have made, I have always checked with my wife. If she said yes, I would make it,” he said. “Because I know that behind every good man is a woman who is better.”

Mike remained with FloraStar until 2004, when Flo was diagnosed with cancer, and he became her caregiver full time. Flo passed away in 2005. 

Mike and Flo Novovesky

Throughout Mike’s career in horticulture, he and Flo had four children – two daughters and two sons, one of whom lost his battle with cancer at the age of 50. Growing a career and raising a family had its challenges through the years, Mike admits, especially when work would require travel. 

“Flo was at home and raised the kids. I traveled a lot. I drove 50,000 miles a year and flew as well. I was in charge of up to 80 people sometimes,” he said. “There were things I missed. But it was the business and part of working while raising a family. There were sacrifices that had to be made.”

In addition to his job, Mike supported the industry while serving with several organizations, including as president of the All American Rose Selection, an association that tested rose bushes. In 2003, he and Flo were inducted into the Colorado State Floricultural Hall of Fame for their dedication to the industry.

Mike said those sacrifices and the struggles he and Flo faced with going to college while working, and then balancing a career with family life were hard at times. He decided to start a scholarship, which eventually transitioned with AFE. The scholarship in the couple’s name with AFE seeks to lessen that burden on other couples by helping married students fund their college education. 

“Over the course of my career, I have worked with a lot of scholarship committees. What I was noticing was that many of those scholarships were going to students who had more time to study and earn a higher grade point average,” he said. “I wanted to change that. I knew what I was going through earning my Bachelor’s Degree while working and raising a family. Sometimes, it’s difficult to maintain a 3.0 grade point average when you are juggling so much.”

While serving as president of the Bedding Plant Foundation Incorporated (BPFI), he started the scholarship that would require only a 2.5 grade point average to help those families. Mike said he has been thrilled with the benefit the scholarship has provided to those studying in the field, especially when it was transitioned under the management of the Endowment.

Mike said his children have agreed to continue the scholarship in the future so that many students for generations to come can benefit from the financial help. He said AFE has been a valuable organization in ensuring that the family’s scholarship, as well as all the scholarships that the Endowment manages, reach those who are most in need.

“I really appreciate the support that AFE is giving the industry and thank the members for their contributions,” he said. “Their work is the reason I am willing to put my money in there. I have absolutely no hesitation. Everyone in the organization is fantastic.”

While Mike and his current wife, Joyce, contemplate full retirement in a few years, he said he is confident about the future of the floriculture industry, which is positively influenced by a myriad of societal factors, including environmental, industrial, and cultural. He has always been impressed with the flexibility the industry provides.

“Our industry is different from many other industries. Our industry is one where an individual can get into it and open a small business like a landscaping business or open up a garden center,” he said. “It’s easy to start a business in this industry. You can’t just start an oil refinery or a big pharmaceutical company, but you can open a greenhouse or a retail flower shop on your back porch. That gives it such a great appeal.”

He said he likes to offer advice to young floriculture hopefuls anytime he is asked, and always passes along what he feels has been his most valuable advice to date:

“There are two things that have been important to me when it comes to my career. My father always told me to listen to the old people. Ask them questions. Ask them specifically, ‘Can you educate me?’ When you use those words, the doors open up tremendously, and that has helped me all through life,” he said. “The other thing is to always be honest, that way you are always going to remember what you said.” 

Written by Carla Dempsey