Flowers for heroes

Published 6:30 am Friday, May 27, 2016

Niles business owner Phil Hurlbutt still gets emotional when talking about his father, Ray, a Niles native and decorated military man who passed away in March of 2009.

Ray served in the U.S. Navy for 25 years and was a veteran of both World War II and the Korean War.

Phil said he and his family traveled all over the country, from California to Hawaii because of his father’s line of work, giving him a deeper appreciation of what it means to serve and a respect for those who do.

Phil’s uncles, Melvin and Bert, also served in the U.S. Armed Forces.

“It means a lot because they protected us,” said Hurlbutt, who lives in Cassopolis and owns The Flower Cart on N. 5th Street in Niles. “So many men and women lost their lives protecting our country to have the rights that we have.”

A strong family tie to the military is one of the reasons why Phil said he is honored to participate in a program called Memorial Day Flowers, which provides free roses for people to place on the headstones of those who served.

Phil will hand out 250 free roses to the loved ones of military men and women following the conclusion of the Memorial Day Parade Monday in Niles. He will have a table set up at the Veterans Memorial at Silverbrook Cemetery.

Phil said the program is designed for a family member of someone who served to take two roses — one to place at the gravesite and one to take home.

He hopes the flowers will provide at least a small measure of comfort to those who receive them.

“Hopefully this will show them that there are people out there who care and have gratitude for the people who served our country,” he said. “Some people don’t have the money to be able to place a rose, so it is nice to give them the ability to do that.”

Phil also plans to place a rose at his father’s grave in Mission Hills Cemetery and at the graves of his uncles at Silverbrook Cementery.

Nearly everyone who works at The Flower Cart has a family tie to the military.

Staff member Peg Maiers, of Niles, said her mother, Elizabeth Wheeler, served as an Army nurse at the end of World War II and her father, Charles Wheeler, served in the Navy at that time.

“I appreciate what those men and women sacrificed for us, so I think this is a wonderful tribute what Phil is doing,” Maiers said.

Staff member Kim True, of Niles, said her grandfather, Robert Hoffman, served in the Coast Guard and her father-in-law, David True, served in the Army during Vietnam, earning a Purple Heart.

Memorial Day Flowers is a non-profit organization with more than 300 retailers and organizations participating this Memorial Day.

Phil said his supplier, Kennicott Brothers Co., of South Bend, is supplying the roses.