T.D. Hefko founded our wonderful business in 1912. T.D. was a Ukrainian immigrant from the Galicia region of the Austrian Empire. After being discharged from the Austrian army, he had a hard time finding work, so in 1905 he emigrated to the United States in hope of a better life. When he arrived, he worked in a foundry in Cohoes, N.Y., but a strike cost him his job. In 1909, he moved to Rothschild, WI to work on the construction of a paper mill. Shortly thereafter, he became ill and was hospitalized in Merrill, where he befriended a local florist. He worked for him for two years and learned the trade. In 1912, with very limited capital, T.D. responded to a newspaper ad and purchased the small florist and greenhouse operation of I. Macklin located at the corner of Fifth Street and Oak Avenue here in Marshfield.
He quickly expanded the greenhouse operation from 4000 square feet to over 17,000 square feet and updated the operation with the latest technology and equipment available at the time. He delivered flowers around Marshfield by bicycle and throughout Central Wisconsin by train, a practice common in the industry at the time. He’d carefully wrap the flowers in paper and race them to the Soo Line Depot, where they’d be sent as far north as Phillips!
T.D was a very ambitious and studious man, spending hours reading books that would teach him how to run a successful business. He printed his own cards, stationery, and price lists on a printing press he purchased. In November 1922, Hefko also opened a branch shop at 307 S. Central Ave. in the downtown area of Marshfield until the Depression. Aside from fresh flowers and plants, he offered an elaborate line of vases, baskets, goldfish, globes, and even canary birds! During this time, roses cost $1.75 a dozen and carnations were $1.50 a dozen!
T.D. married Mabel Hood in 1916. They had four children: June, Terry, Ruth, and baby James, who died shortly after birth. All three of the Hefko children worked in the business as children. Mabel died tragically in 1934 and T.D was absolutely heartbroken. From then on, he buried himself in his business and became extremely active in local clubs such as the Elks, Masons, Eagles, Rotary Club, and Chamber of Commerce. At this time he also became very active in local politics. In 1928, T.D. was elected Mayor, running on a platform of extreme fiscal responsibility, which became very important as the City approached the Great Depression. He was re-elected twice, serving from 1928 to 1934. Hefko Pool, named in his honor, was built during his administration with funds he helped to secure from the State.
Terry joined the firm immediately following his graduation from Marshfield High School in 1939. However, in 1942, his career was put on hold when he enlisted in the Marines and saw action in the South Pacific. Terry's career in the floral business was continued immediately after he returned home to Marshfield following the war – in fact, the very next day! Terry and T.D. became partners in the business in 1948, and two years later they formed the corporation Hefko Floral Company.
Terry soon met Betty Gustafson, a graduate of the St. Joseph’s School of Nursing and a nurse at St. Joseph’s hospital. When he was courting her, he’d send dozens and dozens of flowers up to the nurses’ dormitory for Betty and all the other nurses to enjoy. Needless to say, they all enthusiastically supported the courtship! Eventually, he won her heart and they married in 1946; then proceeded to produce seven little Hefko weed pullers! Betty continued to work as a nurse early in their marriage, but also helped out in the greenhouse. Eventually she quit nursing and helped out full time.
T.D. decided to retire, and in 1956 Terry and Betty purchased the company. They updated the greenhouses, growing equipment, and gift shop. Most of the glass was replaced with plastic, which was more durable and inexpensive to replace when broken. During this time, the the entire Hefko family of seven children was involved in and virtually grew up at the greenhouse. For several years, they lived in an apartment above the greenhouse.
Terry and Betty absolutely loved children and welcomed them into the greenhouse with open arms. Kids came to drink from the bubbler, make wishes in the goldfish pond, or simply just to warm up and call for a ride after ice skating at the Oak Street pond. Terry and Betty loved to visit and joke around with all of them. They even held an annual Halloween party in the root cellar. Kids from all over were invited to come and walk into the fun haunted house that they created and to bob for apples they hung from the greenhouse rafters.
It was also during this era that the Hefko Floral Open House tradition was begun. People would literally stand in line for hours to come in and enjoy all the Christmas decorations, cookies, and coffee. During Terry and Betty’s tenure, the business really became an integral part of the community. They even put out buckets of roses for voters to take near the Armory, with a note thanking them for voting. Terry and Betty became more active in trade associations and in community volunteer work.
Terry and Betty also opened a branch shop in front of the Central Plaza (now the City Hall Plaza) in downtown Marshfield in 1977. Eventually the entire operation was moved there when on New Year’s Eve of that year the greenhouse operation came to a tragic end - a fire gutted the service building attached to the greenhouses. While we were struggling to make the tough decisions regarding rebuilding, we also had to get ready for Valentine’s Day – one of the biggest and certainly most hectic holidays for florists.
John Figi, then the owner of Central Plaza, gave us space in the basement to workf. We hauled all the flowers up in carts by elevator to move out of that small shop. We’ll never forget the sight of the lines of loyal customers patiently waiting down the hall to pick up their flowers. They all knew how much we needed their support. Eventually we made all the deliveries that Valentine's Day; then, we just sat down and cried.
We decided not to rebuild our greenhouse operation. With the price of fuel rapidly increasing, it just wasn’t cost effective to grow plants and flowers in north central Wisconsin when it was easy to obtain our flowers and plants from more hospitable climates. We knew of other greenhouse operators who had fuel bills as high as $5000 – for one month! We never intended to stay at our Central Plaza (now City Hall Plaza) location as long as we have, but our customers told us the parking was better and the location more convenient. Our whole lives changed then - we weren’t selling bedding plants anymore and we weren’t staying up all night planting memorial urns. All in all, we were better off not owning a greenhouse.
Lizz Hefko Koenig worked with Betty and Terry, along with her brother Bob, throughout the 70’s and 80’s along with two other full time employees. Lizz became an officer in the company during the 80’s. In 1988, upon the retirement of Terry and Betty, Lizz and her husband Chuck Koenig purchased Hefko Floral. They remodeled the store and when Chuck came into the business in 1992, they fully computerized the company’s bookkeeping and order-taking system. T.D would be proud of us for keeping the business up-to-date with the latest technology.
Lizz and Chuck's son, Seth, became an officer in the company in the early 90’s, and when he returned home from college in 1997, he began working full time as a marketing manager and web designer. With his help, we have developed a customer database that has helped our company communicate better with our customers. He also built from scratch this website that helps us communicate with our customers better and draw new customers from all over the world. It really has become an important part of our business.
It’s been a long journey for our family and our business - a journey that, with Seth as the fourth generation planning to take over someday, isn’t over yet. From delivering $1.75 a dozen roses by bicycle…to filling orders that soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan have placed through our website…what a journey it’s been!