HALSTEAD — Joe Flask started working with flowers in the eighth grade. Nearly 70 years later, his passion for all things floral has not ebbed.
"I just liked flowers," Flask said. "I grew flowers out in our garden and I decided I wanted to be a florist."
At the age of 84, Flask is the oldest florist operating in the United States.
"I will never retire," Flask said. "I can't imagine sitting at home in a rocking chair."
Flask grew up in Ohio, where he learned life is not all about making a profit.
"I was raised in a blue-collar family," Flask said. "We had everything we needed. We didn't have anything extra."
Flask's father quit school in the sixth grade to help at home and wound up working in a steel mill. Though his father decreed Flask and his sister had to graduate high school before going out to get a regular job, that didn't stop Flask from becoming an entrepreneur. In high school, Flask would grow flowers and bring in truckloads of Christmas trees and watermelons to sell on the side of the highway.
"I never had a job, but I was learning how to make money," Flask said.
His flower arrangements for family and neighbors soon caught the eyes of others.
"When I was in the ninth grade, I did the high school secretary's wedding out of our living room," Flask said.
During Flask's senior year, he went to a floral shop and told them he wanted to work there. They turned him down, so he decided to go every day to watch and learn.
"I wanted to get my hands in it. I wanted to be a part of it," Flask said. "I went every day for about a month before they were in a bind with a lot of funeral work."
The shop owner asked him if he could green the arrangements and make bows. Flask said he could, and thus began his career in the floral industry.
Flask later worked in floral shops in Wichita, but then decided he wanted to move his family to the smaller community of Halstead.
"I looked at the small towns around Wichita, and this one had everything that you could imagine," Flask said.
Flask has owned and operated Halstead Floral, at 224 Main St., for the past 45 years. The shop sells more than flowers. Antiques and artwork — including some of Flask's own paintings — are also featured.
The past 67 years brought major changes to the business, Flask noted. In his early days, there were no big box stores or grocery stores with floral departments.
"I can't even begin to compare what it is now to what it was 45 years ago when I came to this town, or when I started 60-plus years ago in Ohio," Flask said. "It's entirely different."
Flask said his business is built on his arrangements and his customers.
"I don't copy out of the FTD book that they send you to show you how to make a bouquet," Flask said. "...I know what my customers want."
Flask wants flowers purchased from Halstead Floral to last at least two weeks, which means being selective about the type and quality of the blooms.
Many of Flask's customers do not live in Halstead, but order flowers from him to take to family and friends in assisted living facilities or the cemetery.
Since the closing of Halstead's hospital, funerals provide the majority of Flask's orders.
Flask said he has spent his life convincing people that flowers are a gift that stays in the recipient's heart and mind.
"I give a lot of my stuff away to people who I know will appreciate it, to people I know who don't have it and people who have never had it," Flask said. "I was raised that way — you give what you've got. It may come back doublefold, maybe not to you, but to somebody else."