When Pat Ptaszynski began at Rosery Florist, it was for one day, Mother’s Day, and just to help out.
That was 73 years ago, in 1950.
Today, she is the owner, and on the eve of her 90th birthday, which is coming up in December. But she told Sudbury.com what she tells her staff every five years: “I’ll give it another five years.”
Now Sudbury’s oldest floral shop, Rosery Florist initially opened up just down the street, at 78 Larch St., before moving down the street to No. 74 just 10 years later.
It all began in 1938 when accountant and businessman, Bill Kramer, decided to open a flower shop. In 1950, Kramer needed more help.
“Mr. Kramer knew my sister and he said he needed help for Mother’s Day. My sister said, ‘She’s not doing nothing,” Ptaszynski said with a laugh. “After the day passed, he asked if I’d like to work full time.”
At first, she worked with another florist, but one day, that designer was unavailable, and Kramer asked Ptaszynski if she could create what was known as Gates of Heaven or Gates Ajar arrangement for a funeral. Back then, it wasn’t a case of inserting the blooms into a foam frame; Ptazsynski had to individually wire each flower.
Kramer liked her work, and the rest, they say, is history. Since that time, Ptazsynski has created arrangements for Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Charles and Princess Diana, as well as several dignitaries and two prime ministers.
She was also invited by floral shops in Orillia and Midland to create arrangements for Pope John Paul II on his visit there in 2002. “I was a Catholic and the other florists were not,” she said, by way of explanation.
Ptaszynski said that it is the formality of the arrangements, especially for funerals, that have changed the most through the years.
And her favourite arrangement?
“White anything with green foliage,” she said. “It’s very unique.”
Her favourite varieties of ‘white anything’ include orchids and “football mums (chrysanthemums).”
Another change in floral styles? No more corsages or boutonnieres for New Year’s Eve.
“Everybody wore a corsage, it was three roses or three carnations,” said Ptaszynski. When it came time to pick them up, people would line up around the corner, she said. “We made about 300 of them.”
For so many, flowers are a part of every life moment, from birth to death and every celebration in between. For Ptaszynski, this floral shop has been a part of every one of her life moments, even the saddest.
For instance, she held Kramer’s hand as he took his last breath in his apartment above the store. Her family, husband, son and daughter all cared for Kramer in his final years.
“I fed him his dinner, and he asked me for a glass of beer,” she said. “So I poured it for him, put the straw to his lips and he took one sip, his head fell to the side, and he was gone.”
That was in 1970. Kramer left her the building and the business.
Ptaszynski raised her family there, and her daughter and son also helped out in the shop. Her daughter became a florist, and is retired now — though her nonagenarian mother has not — although she still occasionally helps out. Sadly, Ptaszynski has lost her son and her husband. Her son passed very recently, and her husband died of an aneurysm on Dec. 23, 2004, six months before their 50th wedding anniversary.
She sheds more than a few tears as she speaks of them.
But she said it is being a part of the community, being a part of everyone’s life in a special way that keeps her going.
We go from birth, to school, to graduation, to birthdays, to weddings, to funerals. So we go through a life cycle,” she said. And with her longtime customers' needs? “Right now I'm going through the great-grandchildren (of her customers).”
The shop has also donated many floral arrangements to local charities.
The Rosery Florist has a staff of between seven and 20 people, depending on the time of year, and most of them have at least a decade working there. It is clear when you visit that the staff is family to one another.
And for at least another five years, “as long as my health holds out,” Sudbury will have its oldest community floral shop.
Jenny Lamothe is a reporter with Sudbury.com.