AVON PARK — When it comes to loving what you do, you could say that Nell Roberts is a “flower child.”
Ridge Florist, the business she started with her late husband, Steve, took root in 1963. Over the years, locations sprouted up in Sebring and Lake Placid, in addition to the original Avon Park location. Now, 55 years later, Ridge Florist is still in full bloom.
Susan Melvin, a former employee and friend said, “I’m stealing this quote I heard many years ago that has stuck with me. ‘Some people make things happen, some people watch things happen, and some people wonder what happened.’ Well, Nell is one of those people that make things happen, in her professional and personal life.”
“Mom never let a roadblock or a problem stand in her way,” Buzzy Roberts, her son, said. “I guess you could say the she is the ‘Lucille Ball’ of Highlands County. She has stayed busy and informed in the floral industry, keeping up with the multiple changes and the many turns the retail community can create.
“She has exceeded all expectations of a business owner,” Buzzy Roberts said.
“I started to help Nell and Steve when I was 15 years old,” Melvin said. “I learned so much in the 10 years I was there. I helped in every department and even learned to drive a stick-shift delivering flowers in the delivery van.
“Nell could be fiery at times, but soon I learned that she was a compassionate, artistic, go-getter,” Melvin said. “She was determined and she loved and helped everyone.”
Roberts’ vision and influence within the Florida florist industry even took her to Tallahassee and the governor’s mansion.
“During the 1980’s,” Buzzy recalls, “mom was instrumental in getting florists from all over Florida to participate in the decorating of the governor’s mansion in Tallahassee. With her connections to the Republican Party and the governor’s office, she led the way for florists to become involved in the decorating there for many years.
“It started with the administration of Gov. [Robert] Martinez,” Buzzy continues. “The governor and first lady were very impressed with the decorating and all the activities. They even returned to Tallahassee early from their Thanksgiving holiday just to watch mom and her team provide all the wonderful decorating. This continued on through the years of Gov. [Jeb] Bush (both terms) and Gov. [Charlie] Crist.”
When the economy took a downward turn that only inspired Nell to charge ahead.
“Her one concern,” Buzzy said, “was the employment of her staff in all of her stores. She once said, ‘my people, they need jobs, I have to do anything I can to keep business going and growing so my employees have jobs and can support their families.’
“She always looked at adversity as a way to plow through and continue to succeed,” Buzzy said. “When other flower shops or small businesses in the community and county started to close their doors, she continued her excellent customer service and attention to detail. She is a survivor.”
“I literally grew up in the flower business,” Melvin said. “I learned about business, being professional, accounting, politics, church and life lessons, both good and bad, easy and hard from Nell and Steve.
“I believe Nell is successful because she is genuine, determined, confident, ambitious and generous,” Melvin said. “She truly cares about everyone. Nell has an artistic vision, puts it into action, and this shows in her work every day.
“Most of all, Nell is good people,” she said. “So was Steve. Nell was a good role model in the 10 years I was there and I consider her my second mother in life.”
“When my father, Steve, took ill, mom didn’t let that stop her,” Buzzy said. “She refused to get outside help. She continued to provide for her husband and yet run a most successful business.”
Ridge Florists three locations are:
• 420 W. Main St., Avon Park
• 111 Memorial Drive, Sebring
• 201 E. Interlake Blvd., Lake Placid
“She is a survivor,” Buzzy said. “Nell Roberts is one of a kind.”