- Associated Press - Thursday, December 17, 2015

RICHMOND, Ind. (AP) - Pleasant View Nursery is coming back to life after a debilitating fire, like a sprout emerging from the soil.

Owner Steve Foust and bookkeeper Jeannie Karnes work shoulder-to-shoulder in an office they’ve created in a tiny room of a mobile home at the New Paris Pike property.

“We’re still alive and well. It’s business as usual,” Foust said. “Luckily, we had this old trailer back here.”

Their staff also works in makeshift accommodations, putting down roots wherever they can. Florist Karen Johnson has a table in a greenhouse she uses to create arrangements. A recently constructed service counter is so new one can still smell the fresh paint while purchasing poinsettias, wreaths, bulk greenery and Christmas trees for cutting.

It is all part of Pleasant View’s recovery from the early morning fire on Nov. 3 that claimed the 1870s barn that was the heart of the landscaping, nursery and floral business.

Richmond firefighters reported they could see the fire’s flames from nearly a mile away. It took 45 minutes to bring the blaze under control and about a week to extinguish all the hot spots in the smoking remains. Mike Davis of the Richmond Fire Department said the damage was so great the cause of the fire could not be determined.

It was a terrible shock to the Foust family and their business family.

Steve Foust’s grandfather, Robert Roscoe Foust, brought the family, including his eight sons, into the nursery business. Three of those sons, Freble, Eldon and Wiley, started Foust Brothers nursery in the 1950s and divided it in the 1960s.

Wiley Foust became owner of Rose City Nursery on the former site of Foust Brothers on Eaton Pike. Eldon Foust started a nursery in Eaton, Ohio. Another brother, Ivan, started his own landscaping business on North West L Street. And Freble Foust started Pleasant View Nursery on New Paris Pike in 1964.

Steve Foust followed in his father’s footsteps, taking over in 1983. His wife, Cheryl, was co-owner of the business until her death in 2005.

Foust said, with the exception of the time he spent in the U.S. Marine Corps, he has “stomped” the Pleasant View grounds his whole life.

Each year, the Foust family added to their family history collection in the old barn.

“It was 50 years of personal possessions,” said Laura Karnes, long-time operations manager and daughter of bookkeeper Jeannie Karnes.

Lost were important family photographs, business records, landscape drawings, antiques, equipment, workspace and a beloved puppy, Hershel.

“It’s all gone,” Foust said. “It hasn’t soaked in.”

Among the items destroyed was Foust’s collection of license plates from all 50 states marking the 1976 U.S. Bicentennial. “They’re just burned metal now,” Foust said.

His faith and his church family at Centerville Christian Church have gotten Foust through the darkest days since the fire.

“It’s unbelievable the prayers . I can feel them down in my soul,” Foust said.

“My Christian belief is that God’s got control of everything . I may not understand what’s in front of me, but we’ll prevail,” Foust said.

“I just want to thank everybody that’s helped us,” he said.

Foust said he has relied on Jeannie Karnes to be his rock at the business.

“It’s the bookkeeper in me,” Jeannie Karnes said. “Everything is logical. Let’s get back to order.”

Vendors and suppliers have been helpful and customers have called to remind Karnes that they are aware of their outstanding bills, even if the records of the transactions are gone.

“I’m still dealing with burnt files,” Jeannie Karnes said.

Across the grounds from the trailer where Jeannie Karnes toils, beyond the blackened foundation of the barn, there is evidence of the nursery’s new life. Hammering, sawing, painting and cultivating are taking place. The greenhouses that were damaged by the fire where they attached to the barn have been rebuilt.

Working in a corner of a greenhouse she has claimed for her own, Johnson is philosophical about the experience.

“It could be worse,” Johnson said.

Laura Karnes praised the way Johnson reacted to the aftermath. “She started delivering flowers two days after the fire,” Laura Karnes said.

“I had orders I knew needed filled, and I just got started gathering what I needed,” Johnson said.

Like Johnson, everyone pitched in. The business employs 10 to 12 people depending on the season.

“We’re all like family out here,” Laura Karnes said.

Right after the fire, the greenhouses were full of infant poinsettias, destined for holiday orders, and getting them warm and safe was a priority. The mild weather helped, Foust said.

“We had a lot of commitments through Christmas,” Laura Karnes said.

Foust is now beginning to be able to look past the holidays to the future. One day, he worried about potting spring plants without a potting area.

“We’ll figure it out,” Laura Karnes reassured him. “It’s just putting the pieces back together. There’s always more to be done.”

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Source: (Richmond) Palladium-Item, http://pinews.co/1mnJpFW

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Information from: Palladium-Item, http://www.pal-item.com

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