Thursday, July 26, 2012

The First Wreath - Mickman Brothers Holiday Fundraiser

So, as my Grandma told the story to me many, many years ago, this is how our family wreath business was born. 

"When I was a young girl in Norge (Norway) back in the late 1800's, my mother used to make a wreath each year from evergreens we children (9 boys & 2 girls) would gather from the forest alongside the fjord on which we lived. It wouldn't take many boughs, and I liked gathering them. When I was older, my mother showed me how to make the wreath that we would display on the door of our small cottage each year. Ours was a tough life and all of my brothers eventually died at sea, as either fishermen or merchant sailors.

After I met your Grandpa in England during WWI, we moved to America and, because the people in New York told us that there were many Norwegians living in Minnesota, we moved to St. Paul. Our small family had a hard 'go of it' during the Great Depression as did all of our friends. However, each Christmas I loved making a nice wreath and hanging it on our front door; it always reminded me of my own mother so many years before.

One year when your father [John Victor Mickman] was about 12 years old, he came home from school and saw my nice wreath on the front door. He wanted to buy a Christmas present for me, and had an idea that maybe he could sell that wreath down the street to someone. Well, that is just what he did. He walked down Summit Avenue where all the rich people lived, until someone purchased this wreath. [My dad said it was James J. Hill's daughter, founders of the Great Northern Railroad, that purchased this first wreath.]

With his newly earned money, your dad went to a store and purchased a lovely set of porcelain figurines - the set that I have on my bedroom bureau. The sales clerk was kind enough to wrap this gift for your dad, and he came home and presented it to me. Well, I knew your dad didn't have ANY money and I pinched his ear until he told me how he got the money to pay for the present. He finally confessed that he had taken our wreath off of the front door and sold it down on Summit Ave. I couldn't imagine that anyone would want to pay money for such a thing, and asked your dad if he thought he could sell any more. He said he thought he could sell as many as I could make!

So, your Grandpa, your dad and I gathered as many boughs as we could and I made wreaths out of all the boughs we could find. Your dad was able to sell these wreaths as fast as I made them, and he sold every single one  - we didn't even have a wreath on our own door that year [of 1934]."

Years later our dad, John Victor Mickman (a WWII veteran), started his own wreath business to help him earn money while attending the University of Minnesota. His full time career was as an aeronautical engineer at Honeywell, but he continued his wreath business until his retirement in the 1970’s. He also began a Christmas tree business which was a nice compliment to his wreath business.

During all those years, my brothers and I were recruited into the wreath business from the time we were 6 or 7. We harvested boughs, picked pine cones, made some and delivered most of the wreaths to dad’s many fundraising customers in the Twin Cities. Dad’s Christmas Wreath and Tree businesses were the primary method for my brothers and I to fund our many activities as we grew up – including paying for our own college educations.
In 1977, brother Chris and I started our own Christmas Wreath Fundraising Business after dad sold us his 15,000 wreath sales customer list. Our wreath company has grown to one of the largest in the country and since 1977, our fundraising customers have earned in excess of $75,000,000 to fund their activities!
We are proud of our heritage and look forward to ‘Wreath Season’ each and every year. But for me, Christmas would not be complete without working in this family business as I have done since I was 6 years old. Now my son John C. and daughter Mariah work in our company as they have done each year since they were 6 years old. My hope is that they will continue this heritage so that their children have the same opportunity.

John S. Mickman