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The Larimers: Giving Back to an Industry that Found Them

We have newly launched a quarterly program to spotlight donors as well as regular articles highlighting the 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 Dwight and Dawn Larimer for their impact on the industry. We welcome you to read about their journey and their crucial role in AFE’s mission!

Dwight and Dawn Larimer

More than 2,500 miles separated Dwight and Dawn Larimer as they grew up on opposite sides of the country. Little did they know at the time that fate would bring the two together through an industry that has been pivotal in both their professional and personal lives.

That journey also allowed the Larimers to learn about the crucial work of the American Floral Endowment (AFE) and, together, become an ongoing part of the organization’s mission. For the two, floriculture has been the foundation of their past, and AFE’s commitment to the industry now represents the future.

Planting the Seeds

The floral industry wasn’t something either of them had on their radar. Growing up in Rochester, New York, Dwight had pondered a career in rehabilitation psychology, but eventually settled on a business degree from the State University of New York in Albany, Meanwhile, Dawn, who was raised in eastern Washington, studied business administration and marketing at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma. Her first glimpse of the floral industry came following graduation when a recruiter connected her with an interview.

“I ended up not getting that job, and I was so sad because I never even thought of the floral industry,” she said. “But when I got that interview, just the sound of it really made me want to work for that company and be in that industry.”

Her interest in the floral industry was piqued, and she eventually secured a marketing job with the Kirk Company Floral Division. It was her first taste of the industry, and she was hooked.

Dwight was working for a consulting company and was offered a job with one of the New York clients – the former W.J. Cowee, Inc., a leading manufacturer of wooden floral picks, plant stakes and other products that support the industry. Two years later in 1979, Dwight was the vice president of sales and marketing for the company and found himself becoming fully immersed in the industry.

Right Place, Right Time

Dwight and Dawn Larimer with Retired AFE Research Director Dr. Terril Nell and wife Cathy Nell

Dwight and Dawn met in 1981, in Seattle during a Wholesale Florist & Florist Supplier Association (WF&FSA) convention. Both in marketing, their inner circles overlapped and brought commonality to a friendship that stretched from coast to coast.

By 1983, Dwight decided to continue his journey in the industry, joining Colorado Dye and Chemical, which would eventually become Design Master, a company that specializes in color sprays for floral and accessory products. His move to Boulder, Colorado to work for the company allowed him to further develop his expertise in the industry, this time becoming engrossed in the psychology of color and helping to elevate the industry as part of a company that produced dye technology in aerosols.

“Very suddenly, on March 12, 1984, the Kirk Company closed its floral division doors, so Dawn lost a job she dearly loved,” Dwight said. “To take her mind off of it, I suggested that she come to Colorado and visit. She did, and the rest is history.”

As their relationship progressed, Dawn would visit Dwight often until the decision was made to move there. She packed up her cat, her resume and her interview suit and set off for Colorado. While saddened to leave the floral industry, Dawn landed a job with Citicorp, a career opportunity she said she couldn’t pass up.

Securing the Future

The Larimers were married in 1986 and would go on to have two sons, both of whom graduated from the University of Colorado in Boulder and remain in the state. Garrett, now 35, is a new father to the couple’s first grandchild, Estelle Mae. Their son, Nicholas, 33, who is planning to marry in May, shares a birthday with one of the most important milestones in Dwight’s career.

Dwight and Dawn with sons, Nick and Garrett.

“The day we had Nicholas was the day Dwight became president of Design Master,” Dawn said. “That was a big day in his life.”

Dwight’s promotion to the top of the company, seven short years after he was first hired there, was a result of his innovative, leading talent in the industry. He was instrumental in developing several initiatives for the company over the years, including the Color Concepts program, a partnership between Design Master and suppliers to foster the merchandising of products that complement the floral industry.

Throughout his career, Dwight drew from the knowledge and inspiration of others and shared his own wisdom through memberships to several national associations and serving on committees that fostered the future of the floral business world. He said his involvement with the AFE taught him early on in his career how to not only elevate the industry of today but find ways to secure it for the professionals of tomorrow.

Dwight Larimer and Executive Director, Debi Chedester (far right) representing AFE at AIFD FFA Workshop.

“I have a home office that is full of plaques, and among them is my first AFE plaque from a phone-a-Thon held in 1994,” Dwight said. “That was my first touchpoint with AFE and being an ambassador for them. It was incredibly important to me to be part of nonprofit work that supported the industry as a whole.”

He would become even more involved with AFE, serving on the organization’s board of trustees since 2006, and serving as board chair from 2016-2018. He has served on the AFE’s Education, Floral Marketing Fund (FMF) and PR/Development committees. He co-founded AFE’s Young Professionals Council in 2015, serving as a board liaison to the group. He is the outgoing chair of AFE’s Vic and Margaret Ball Internship Committee, which connects undergraduate students to internships in floriculture production.

More Work to Do

Dwight led Design Master for over four decades, through its sale in 2021 to Smithers-Oasis, until his retirement in 2022.

But his involvement with the floral industry is still going strong.

“I have friends who are in jobs from long careers, and they can’t wait to retire. That is sad. I didn’t retire from the industry. I kept my involvement in AFE because it is in my blood,” he said. “I continued even after my business was sold and I finished ‘working’ because I think the work AFE does is critical to the industry.”

His efforts with AFE have earned him the organization’s first-ever Ambassador Award, honoring him for being an esteemed colleague, dedicated benefactor and member of the Consecutive Giving Society for more than 16 years.

The Larimers said they continue to be impressed by AFE’s work, including grants, research, scholarships and internships and want to continue to be part of that momentum. For both Dwight and Dawn, it is an honor to be part of AFE’s Legacy Circle where their planned gift can serve as a way to give back to an industry that has shaped their lives.

“We feel so blessed to have been in this industry. We give back because we can never take that for granted,” said Dawn. “We feel so lucky to be part of an industry that we never even knew at the beginning of our careers could be so impactful and so meaningful. The floral industry has tied that all together for us.”