ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) — The inside of Pinter’s Flowerland Greenhouse is a waving sea of red this time of year.
Thousands of potted poinsettias rest on tables throughout several acres of greenhouses on the family property in Ypsilanti Township.
One poinsettia stretching toward the winter sunlight has special meaning for Debbie Blackmore this year. She feels the presence of her recently deceased brother in that particular plant, which grows a good 6 inches higher than the other poinsettias.
“I always believe that’s him looking over everything,” she said.
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Blackmore’s brother Joe Pinter, 72, was the head grower at the family business and presided over the poinsettias with pride for decades, according to his family.
No one knew last Christmas would be his last crop, however. He died in September from injuries sustained in a motorcycle crash.
“It was a shock to all of us,” said his son, Tim Pinter. “This is our first season without him.”
Tim, 47, is now caring for the 30,000 poinsettias without the father who taught him the trade.
He’s finding that growing the poinsettias is an antidote for his grief.
“The busier I am, the less I think about it,” he told The Ann Arbor News .
There’s a portrait taken in the early 20th century hanging over the front door at Pinter’s showing the family’s Hungarian forbearers, according to Harry “Doc” Pinter, Joe’s oldest brother.
The family eventually purchased land along Rawsonville Road between Textile and Bemis in what is technically Washtenaw County’s Ypsilanti Township, but with a Belleville mailing address. Across the road is Van Buren Township and Wayne County.
The family opened a truck stop and garden center on the property in 1926. Joe and his five siblings – Doc, 75, Bob Pinter, 67, Ron Pinter, who died in 2002 at 47, Larry Pinter, 58, and Debbie Blackmore, 57, – eventually took over the business.
The brothers lived in a row of houses on the property, just like their father wanted, according to Blackmore. They all took on various tasks at the nursery.
It was a given, according to Doc.
“My dad, when I was in the eighth grade, said, ‘You can probably quit school already because I need you here,'” Doc recalled.
Doc went on to finish high school, but afterward ended up in the family business.
Joe followed suit. He grew up on the family property and graduated from Lincoln High School. He met his wife, Alice, when they were just 14 years old, according to Tim.
They were married 52 years and had two children together, Tim and his sister, Tammy, who died from brain cancer when they were children.
Tim said his mom is now alone in the house for the first time.
“She’s devastated,” he said.
Joe was also an avid pilot and motorcyclist, according to his obituary.
He was riding his motorcycle westbound on Huron River Drive around 4:18 p.m. Aug. 19 when an 18-year-old Inkster man driving a Kia Spectra pulled out of the Schooner Cove Apartment complex west of Tuttle Hill Road, according to Sgt. Eugene Rush with the Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Office.
Joe didn’t have time to stop and struck the Spectra, according to Rush. The 72-year-old, who’d been riding motorcycles for years, wasn’t wearing a helmet, according to his son.
The 18-year-old was initially cited for failure to yield, Rush said.
Joe suffered a broken back, ribs and feet, as well as a head injury, according to Tim. The police report said he was conscious and talking to first responders when taken away in an ambulance, according to Rush.
Joe went to the hospital, where he attempted to recover for the next few weeks, but ultimately succumbed on Sept. 7.
The 18-year-old could now face a charge of moving violation causing death, a misdemeanor punishable by a year in jail or a $2,000 or both. The Sheriff’s Office has submitted the charge, but the Washtenaw County Prosecutor’s Office hasn’t signed off on it yet.
The death was a shock to the Pinter family and the holidays are making his absence feel more acute.
“Thanksgiving was really hard,” Tim said. “It’s hard going over (for the holidays) knowing Dad would have been with us.”
Joe also isn’t around to help with the poinsettias. Tim said his father was slowing down in recent years, but that he was still healthy and full of vigor, showing up to work every day to help out.
“We were a team,” Tim said.
Now, Tim is on his own.
The family has grown large crops of poinsettias for decades. Doc says they started selling them sometime in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when the red-leafed Mexican plant started became a holiday trend.
They now account for half of the nursery’s 60,000 plants it grows.
The growing process begins as far away from Christmas as you can get, in July, when the cuttings are first planted, according to Tim. Poinsettias aren’t an easy plant to grow, he added.
“They’re kind of their own thing,” he said. “There’s a lot of work into it. There’s a lot of heat. You’ve got to be on top of it all the time. I’m spraying for bugs constantly. Bugs love poinsettias.”
Tim said it costs $1,000 a day just to heat the greenhouses in the winter to keep the plants growing. He says he tries to keep the plants around 55-60 degrees, but will drop the temps once the plant reaches a certain point in the bloom in order to get a deeper red color, though the plants also come in other colors like white.
Doc’s daughter, Lindsey Reott, said they are one of the last nurseries in the area still growing such a large crop of poinsettias. They sell them at the nursery, but also stock places like Westborn Market and other shops across the state, according to Reott.
“They’re a lot of work and not a whole lot of money,” her cousin, Tim, said.
That doesn’t stop him, though. Tim was also brought into the family business at a young age.
“I’ve been doing it my whole life,” he said. “I try to be a perfectionist.”
Blackmore said that some of their old customers were a little skeptical about how the poinsettias would turn out this year with Joe being gone.
“Without him here, they were like, ‘Hmmm, I wonder how the product will be?'” she said.
But all indications are that the poinsettias are still top notch, Blackmore added.
“He’s taught everyone well,” she said about her brother. “I guess we just believe he’s looking over us.”
Information from: The Ann Arbor News, http://www.mlive.com/ann-arbor