A Few Words Could Change Everything

A Few Words Could Change Everything

by Robert Hendrickson

You wouldn’t be reading this if it wasn’t for Ursula. There wouldn’t be a GROUPtalk, The Garden Center Group or my decades adventure in the garden center industry if Ursula hadn’t hired me to work at H.E. Nursery on a spring day in 1974.

My parent’s property in Litchfield, Illinois adjoined a backyard nursery operated by Ursula and Henry Eilers. I had recently returned from Colorado after pawning my guitars and amps for money to create a version of Little House on the Prairie. I thought working someplace selling garden plants would speed-up the knowledge I needed to “live off the land” like all good self-sustaining ex-hippies/ex-musicians were doing. A quick walk to the nursery found Ursula in a small hoop house that held trays of veggie plants called “pull plants”. (Customers would ask for specific numbers of various vegetable seedlings which were then “pulled” apart, wrapped in moist newspaper and sold for ten cents each.) After asking Ursula if they were hiring, my interview consisted of just one question… “Can you start tomorrow?” That one question asked by someone I would learn to respect as much as anyone I’ve ever met, began my forty-plus years in an industry that at the time I didn’t know existed.

Sometimes one person can set in motion a journey
that becomes your passion, career and lifelong adventure.


Ursula was born in Germany in 1934. The invasion of her village by the Red Army in WW II forced her and her family to escape in the middle of winter by horse-drawn wagon through the mountains into Czechoslovakia. (Ursula told us later during story-time drives from the Mid-Am trade show back to Litchfield, that her parents shaved her head in hopes of making her look more like a young boy in case they were stopped during their escape.)

She began work at age 11 in a Bavarian castle owned by a baroness, waking at 4:30 a.m. to light the dozen fireplaces, then do laundry until late at night. At age 16, alone and knowing no English, she boarded the Queen Mary, landing in New York with a note pinned to her coat that said, “Mt Olive, Illinois.” After passing through the immigration process she would walk up to someone and point to the town name written on the note. People would direct her to others who might have information needed to help her on her way to the small Illinois town to find her U.S. sponsors. Four years later she proudly took the oath to become a U.S. citizen.

Each year our small H.E. Nursery team drove through snow, ice and blizzards after being at Mid-Am and would ask Ursula to “tell us again” her amazing story of how she came to be our boss and inspiration. She would always reply “Not again!” but we persisted until she began. There was no better way to make the long drives back home ones we would never forget.

Her story included information about family members she might never see again due to them living on the Eastern side of the Berlin Wall. I moved to Maryland in 1984 after ten years working with Ursula and her husband Henry and remember being at the garden center there when in 1989 news came that the Berlin Wall had just been torn down. It had been five years since I had seen Ursula or heard her stories but that news triggered an emotion that drove me to tears right in the middle of the store. A quick trip to my office and phone call to Ursula turned sadness into joy knowing that a chapter in her amazing story had just changed forever.

Ursula passed away this past New Year’s Eve, but her inspiration and impact on my life continues. Those four words… “Can you start tomorrow?” set in motion everything good that has happened to me since that day. My career, my family, Wendy, the friends I’ve made (I even met Ernest because of Ursula and Henry but that’s another story) and knowing how one person can make a life-changing difference in another person’s future.

How about you? Is there someone solely responsible for the person you’ve become? Have you told them of the impact they made? Is there someone waiting for you to be the Ursula in their life? Either way, let them know.

A few words could change their world.


Got questions or need more information about your marketing programs?

Give Robert a call or email!
Robert Hendrickson
Cell: 443-255-8282

Robert Hendrickson is founder and a service provider for The Garden Center Group and our "guru" for how to best tell your story.

REMEMBER: Your interaction (by phone and email) with Group Service Providers such as Robert Hendrickson, Steve Bailey, Sid Raisch, and Jean Seawright, and John Kennedy are included in your retainer!

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