By REBECCA ISENHART
NISKAYUNA — Bob Felthousen lifts a framed photograph off the wall of his office at Felthousen’s Florist on Van Antwerp Road.
For him, it’s much more than a snapshot of a Niskayuna landmark. It’s a map of his life — and that of his brother, Ron, who died Oct. 14 from cancer at age 84.
“This is Ron’s legacy,” he said, using the photograph to give a visual history of the family and its business.
He pointed out a couple of family homes that belonged to their grandfather, who founded the place in 1913, and their uncle, who was its second owner. There’s a chimney where the brothers used to shovel coal together and several distinct greenhouses, each with its own nickname.
Around the back, Bob Felthousen indicates the fields where the family once kept landscaping supplies and a small basketball court where they used to play two-on-two together when they were in high school.
After graduating from Nott Terrace High School, Ron Felthousen attended Cornell University to study horticulture and also underwent ROTC training, which gave him a commission in the U.S. Navy. It was an exciting time, but when his service ended, he returned to the family business. It was the natural next step.
“We never thought of doing anything else,” Bob Felthousen said.
For a while, Ron Felthousen worked as a landscaper, the same job he’d held in high school and one he truly loved.
“He had an eye for landscaping,” Bob Felthousen said. “Many homes in Niskayuna had his touch.”
Even now, though Ron Felthousen stopped landscaping decades ago, his brother said he sometimes notices his signatures, like a dogwood tree in a certain corner of a lot. Ron Felthousen, his brother said, was an artist when it came to arranging foliage.
“When you landscape a home, it’s like painting a picture,” Bob Felthousen said. “It’s a fulfillment.”
Together, Ron and Bob purchased the business from their uncle in 1968. Over the years, they updated the layout. The greenhouse that makes up the entryway is a particular point of pride, but the two made lots of changes together over the years.
Felthousen’s appearance has evolved, but it’s still the same family-oriented shop it was when Bob and Ron Felthousen bought the place together. Bob Felthousen is semi-retired, and Felthousen’s is in the care of their nephew, Mark, who represents a fourth generation of owners.
But even those who aren’t related by blood are treated as family at Felthousen’s. Several employees have been part of the staff for 20 or 30 years. Ron Felthousen was especially close with the workers at the Cohoes location, which was his main focus after the brothers acquired it in the mid-1970s.
“He actively ran the Cohoes business,” Bob Felthousen said, and worked there almost to the end.
Ron Felthousen’s role was such that an employee from the Niskayuna location had to fill in for him after he passed away. It was clear Ron’s absence would be felt for a long time.
Bob Felthousen said there were, naturally, lots of flowers at the funeral, and every single arrangement was designed by Felthousen’s artists. One longtime employee was entrusted with arranging a bouquet sent by one of Ron Felthousen’s brothers who wasn’t well enough to travel. At the Cohoes location, each employee individually created a piece in Ron’s memory and sent it to the family.
After the formal services, family, friends and, of course, employees gathered at the Niskayuna location to enjoy dinner in the greenhouse and share stories about Felthousen, surrounded by the greenery that brought him so much happiness.
Wreaths and bouquets are always meaningful when a loved one passes, but Bob Felthousen said the ones at his brother’s service were even more so because they were created by coworkers and friends.
“Flowers do have a message,” he said. “It’s the relationship between two people.”