Eileen speaks about her roots. Her father’s family came from Germany. After her father served in the army he came back to no job, so he started growing and selling flowers.
CINDY HIRSHBERG: Well good morning. I’m Cindy Hirshberg, and joining me today is Eileen Dutterer Gist and her daughter, Lori Welsh-Graham. Today is April the 18th, 2009. And I want to thank both of you ladies for joining us today and sharing your memories of Carroll County’s history. We wanted to start off with some biographical information on you, Eileen. Do you have any background about the family’s origins? How did they come to America and where they first lived?
EILEEN GIST: Well my father’s family came from Germany. And he lived in Silver Run as a young man. And he worked for Scott Baer as a paper hanger back in the 1900s, early 1900s. And then he was inducted into the army. And when he came back from the army, he didn’t have a job any longer, because his job had been filled in by someone else. And he decided he was going to just grow some flowers in the backyard. And that was in 1919.
And that’s how our business started. And we started growing– he started growing enough flowers that he started shipping them to Baltimore, to a wholesaler, which ironically we still deal with in Baltimore after 90 years. So it’s nice to say we’ve had a good relationship all those years, that we’ve all grown together through those shares.
CINDY HIRSHBERG: So this gentleman was your grandfather?
EILEEN GIST: That was my father.
CINDY HIRSHBERG: Your father.
EILEEN GIST: And he lived at 110 Pennsylvania Avenue, which is where our original shop was connected to the home of his parents. And then the year that I was born, in ’37, he moved to the house just up the street at 114. And that’s where I was brought back to from the hospital. And built a little shop onto the side of the house then, and anyone that has come into our shop, the house part is still fairly similar in the way it’s put together. But you’ll see that the shop on the other side is actually fairly similar to what he had when he built it, other than we’ve remodeled many times through the years.
CINDY HIRSHBERG: Mhm.
EILEEN GIST: We did all kinds of interesting things in those days. Compared to what we do now, everything was mostly just cut loose bouquets, or just stuck in a vase and not necessarily arranged too much. Sprays for funerals were done on a piece of wood. And then they took cord and wound around the flower stems and made like a fan-shaped spray. And unlike what we have now with Styrofoam and Oasis and so on that we do all of our set pieces with.
CINDY HIRSHBERG: Growing up here in Carroll County, do you remember where you went to– where you attended school and any of your friends in that era?
EILEEN GIST: Well, I went to West End. And then I went down on Center Street to the school on Center Street. Then over to the high school on Longwell. And we walked. There was not bus service from Pennsylvania Avenue to the school. And I was fortunate enough that I had parents that loved me enough that I didn’t have to walk it every day. I’d walk home lots of evenings, but there wasn’t the service that there is now taking you back and forth. And we have lots of good friends that are still in the Westminster area. We work on our class reunion every five years, and still have nice core group of graduates that are together.
CINDY HIRSHBERG: What was your favorite subject?
EILEEN GIST: Well believe it or not– you’re going to laugh at this– I failed art, as artistic as I am, in the seventh grade. Now I have yet to figure that one out. And I liked to read. And those were the things that I enjoyed doing.
CINDY HIRSHBERG: So you liked art, but it didn’t like you, right?
EILEEN GIST: Well let’s say maybe my teacher was not motivating me. Because as I got later– through the later years, I won an art scholarship in the 12th grade. And I had a teacher that really motivated me to move forward. Now I was artistic in the flower shop, but I was talking mainly about drawing in school. Because one of the funny things that happened as a very little girl, maybe about five years old, I’d made this corsage at Easter, and I was so proud of it. Because our parents, if you belonged to our family, you worked. You just didn’t play. We all worked together. And when we were done working, then we played. And I went out on the front porch at the shop and I sold this corsage for a quarter.
And I went in and I was so proud of it. So proud. And my mother was so upset that I would sell a corsage that was worth $1 to someone for a quarter, because my corsages looked just the same as they did, the other girls that were making them in the shop. So that was a memory that I remember through the years of them laughing about. And I was born a florist. I didn’t become a florist by choice. I was born a florist.
CINDY HIRSHBERG: Do you happen to garden at home?
EILEEN GIST: No.
CINDY HIRSHBERG: No?
EILEEN GIST: I garden at the shop. But I love flowers. And if I have a chance, sometimes I take flowers home. I have a lot of silk flowers in the house. And the reason I do is because by the time– the reason I do is because by the time I go home, I don’t have time to fool with them. And people come to visit, and I want the house to look at nice as it would if I had fresh flowers in it. And that consequently is why I use silk at home.
CINDY HIRSHBERG: [INAUDIBLE]. Did you have any special activities while you were attending school here in Carroll Count?
EILEEN GIST: Well during my senior year, I was fortunate enough that WTTR had just opened up, and I had my own 15-minute radio program as a senior in high school.
CINDY HIRSHBERG: What was the topic?
EILEEN GIST: Flowers– let me think a minute. Flowers by Eileen or Flowers with Eileen. It’s been a long time ago. And I had to laugh, Mike Eaton would let me go out and set in the car on a Wednesday when it came on so I could hear myself on the radio. God loving. And you know, I started doing designing professionally at shows over different states when I was–
CINDY HIRSHBERG: Did you trade? Were there classes then that you could attend on design and stuff like that?
EILEEN GIST: I was born an artist. I can teach anyone to make a flower arrangement, but I can’t teach them to create it.
CINDY HIRSHBERG: Yes.
EILEEN GIST: There’s a difference.
CINDY HIRSHBERG: Yes.
EILEEN GIST: Because you can teach anyone basics. But when you go outside of the box, that has to come from within. And I’ve been very fortunate that God gave me the talent to be a designer. And I have enjoyed my work not just with flowers, but with lots of other aspects of designing, and painting, and needle point, and you know, I’ve been through the gamut. Whatever strikes me today as good.
CINDY HIRSHBERG: Sounds good. Well that kind of walks us into some other topic I was curious about. Do you remember, I know you did your work first and then you relaxed and entertained. But what kind of entertainments would the family enjoy together?
EILEEN GIST: Well we didn’t have television, so we went to visit relatives. And we’d go around town and do things with organizations. My parents were always very involved in Westminster and what was happening, and in Lions Club and Soroptimist Club. And those were the things that I remember as a child, because I went to the meetings with them. They didn’t pay babysitters then. And I had two older brothers that weren’t about to babysit a kid sister, let me tell you.
CINDY HIRSHBERG: So–
EILEEN GIST: One of the things that might be of interest to you, I know you’re thinking of how different it is now from what it was years ago. And I think one of the things that I’ve thought about a lot was my parents were very frugal. And they talked a lot about the Depression. But of course as a kid, I didn’t understand too much about it. And then during the ’40s, I was old enough to realize that they were having a really tough time during the war, because they were given coupon books for gas, and they couldn’t travel all over the county. And one of the things that I recall them doing is taking flowers to the train station and sending them to New Windsor. And Hartzler Funeral Home in New Windsor would pick them up at the train station and take them up the hill to the funeral home, or in Union Bridge.
And when I think about how it was last year with gas, we were all trying to figure out the easiest way to go the furtherest on the least amount of gas. And it really has hit home, a lot of the anxiety that my parents had in those years.
CINDY HIRSHBERG: Jumping over to life in your household again, were there any particular traditions that you grew up with that you’re passing onto your family?
EILEEN GIST: Well we always had birthday parties, and we always took care of each other. Families were back and forth with my brothers and their families to our house, and we always had big family gatherings.
CINDY HIRSHBERG: Any special things that you have to serve it or it won’t be a holiday, or you have to do it–
EILEEN GIST: Turkey, of course. And of course, you understand, a florist family is different from a regular family.
CINDY HIRSHBERG: Oh really.
EILEEN GIST: Absolutely.
CINDY HIRSHBERG: And how is that?
EILEEN GIST: Well Christmas, you’re dead tired on Christmas day, because you’ve beaten up for a month. You were taking care of everyone else. And those were the things that I remember, that even as busy and as tired as we were, my parents always took time for the traditional things and made sure that we had a chance to enjoy them no matter what the circumstances were. And our phone was answered at the shop 24/7 at home so that people could get to us. And it was nothing on Sunday afternoon if we were having maybe lunch, someone come to pick up some flowers that they wanted to take to someone else. My parents would get up and go over and fix them and then come back and finish their lunch. You know, it was– it’s a service type business.
CINDY HIRSHBERG: So that’s part of how you were prepared to take over the management of the business?
EILEEN GIST: My mother died when I was in my early 20s. And then I took over the flower shop. We had a large range of greenhouses. My brothers worked in the greenhouses, and I took over the flower shop. And I had been running the flower shop for several years before she died, because she had cancer. And consequently, it was not new to me. They went to California my senior year of high school and were gone almost a month, and I ran the shop during that summer while they were in California.
CINDY HIRSHBERG: What took them to California?
EILEEN GIST: Lions Club convention.
CINDY HIRSHBERG: Ah.
EILEEN GIST: You know, it’s a service thing. And I’m really proud of them and my family, because we have all followed that tradition in trying to make Westminster a better place to live.
CINDY HIRSHBERG: Well that’s an interesting observation, because I would like to ask if there was a life guideline or advice that your family, your parents, gave you that you have found to be the kind of advice that anybody in today’s confusing circumstances would find useful.
EILEEN GIST: Well I think one of the main things that I recall is they would say to me Eileen, you can’t demand respect. You have to earn it. And to earn respect, you have to work hard, and you have to be honest. And when you’re serving the public, you have to be honest with everyone, because if not it will come back and bite you. And that was one of the hardest lessons, was you treat everyone fairly with everything you do. And then I think that’s why we’ve been in business as long as we have, because we have tried to run a very honest establishment.
CINDY HIRSHBERG: Wonderful. Well let me say thank you again for joining us today for the Carroll History Project. I’m Cindy Hirshberg, and thank you very much.
EILEEN GIST: Thank you. It was my pleasure.