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Still growing strong after all these years

Duke Deal woke up and smelled the flowers early on in life.

Turns out it was a good move. His life ended up being pretty rosy.

Deal has spent the last 50 years working at Pearson Florists and Greenhouse, 420 E. Elm. St.

Fresh out of high school, the lifelong River Falls resident was offered a job at the greenhouse in 1955.

He hasn't looked back since. And that's despite the fact he made $48 a week for a long time.

Talk about dedication.

"Duke never will retire," said Deal's wife, Peg. "He'll just get tired."

That sounds about right.

Even though Duke's daughter, Joni Toland, decided to take over the business - despite her father's advice - several years ago, the 69-year-old still shows up at the shop almost every day.

Who can blame him? Pearson's has been his life for the past half a century.

"This place is like a baby to him," Toland said. "It's like he has to stop to check on it to see if it's still breathing."

And like a good father, Duke has always been dedicated to Pearson's.

Duke and his wife bought the shop five years after he started working there. It was 16 years before they took a vacation.

The couple worked seven days a week. And when the Deals' children were old enough, they worked too.

"The kids never had to run the streets," Duke said. "We always had a job for them."

Between running a successful business and raising a family, the Deals stayed busy - probably busier than Duke first anticipated.

While in high school Duke said he had a friend who worked at Pearson's. As a boy who grew up on the farm, Duke said he was jealous when he saw his friend driving around in a delivery truck.

Duke was hit with a dose of reality his first day on the job.

All of the work was manual. And it was hard.

"It was difficult but in those days you worked to make a living," Duke said. "That's just what you had to do."

Floral landscape

Flowers will always be flowers. But running a greenhouse definitely isn't the same as it used to be.

Duke said soil mixing machines have taken much of the hard work out of the business. Plexiglas green houses make hail storms a little less stressful.

And hardly anyone mixes dirt outside anymore. Most people - because of harmful chemicals in the soil - use the pre-bagged stuff.

Increased development over the years has also had its effect on the business. Duke said more people want flowers to landscape.

And that's a good thing, he said.

Though times and technology have changed, more has stayed the same in the flower business besides roses and daisies.

It's still a lot of hard work.

"People don't die by appointment. There are always funerals. There are always flower arrangements to be made," Duke said.

And then there are the people.

Duke and his wife have met a lot of them over the years. Joni laughs when her dad starts talking about those people.

"Duke's got a story for everything," she said.

Family affair

Duke and Peg always thought if anyone would take over the business someday, it would be their sons.

Boy, were they wrong.

"(My sons) said, 'Are you nuts? We're not gonna work like you have our whole lives,'" Duke said.

And dad understood.

So when his daughter stepped up to the plate as Duke and Peg were on the verge of selling the shop, Duke tried to sway her toward another career choice.

The hard work and tremendous amount of dedication involved in the job was something he didn't want his daughter to have to deal with.

But Joni insisted and the argument stopped there.

"We're glad it's still in the family," Peg said. "This has been such a big part of our lives. We're just not whole if we're not all together and involved in this business somehow."

Love of job

It wasn't his first career choice - Duke really didn't have a career choice at all - but Duke admits loving his job has kept him put at Pearson's for so many years.

Besides, flowers have kept him young.

"I'm 69 and I don't feel like it," Duke said. "I can still lift and plant so I'm pretty well off."

Duke's philosophy is simple: As long as someone can move around they better keep doing it.

That explains a lot about his regular presence at the shop.

"What else am I going to do?" he wonders.

Duke must still enjoy smelling those flowers.

More information about Pearson's can be found at