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Earl May celebrates 100 years in business

Celebration planned June 21 at all locations

Earl May Garden Centers is celebrating 100 years of serving the Midwest and is wanting to thank customers by hosting a celebration at all of its locations.

The celebration is scheduled from 4 to 8 p.m. June 21 at the Newton Earl May Nursery & Garden Center, 2306 First Ave. E. Plenty of activities are planned for all ages.

Newton store manager Michele Williams said there will be live music, food and drinks at the celebration. The event will also feature games and prizes for the kids and potential door prizes and giveaways for all in attendance.  Merchandise will be on sale throughout the store.

Williams said one feature they will be offering is a make-and-take option, where for $25 you will get a fiber pot, soil and gloves and guests will be able to plant annuals of their choice to take home with them. A smaller station will be set up for children and it will be free. Each child will receive a four-inch pot, soil and will be able to pick a flower to plant.

“We love doing events like this. We do a pumpkin fest every year just to show some appreciation. Fun for the kiddos so they know it’s not just focused on the older generation. It’s for our kiddos too,” Williams said.

In honor of the milestone, Earl May will be donating 100 trees company-wide to its service areas. Also, for every 10 trees sold at any store, the company will donate additional trees to that specific community.

The founder, Earl May, grew up in Hayes County, Neb., working on the family farm. He attended and graduated from the University of Nebraska where he met his future wife, Gertrude. After they were married, May went to work for his father-in-law at Mount Arbor Nurseries in Shenandoah.

With the help of his father-in-law, May was able to branch out on his own a start the May Seed and Nursery Company in 1919. It started as a mail-order company offering flowers and vegetables seeds as well as baby chickens, tires, batteries and clothing.

The success of the company led to the first retail location in 1930 just outside of Shenandoah in Lincoln, Neb. The retail store allowed May to offer a more full-service approach to gardeners.

The Lincoln store did so well in a year’s time, May opened another location in Omaha and by 1932, he had expanded to include seven locations.

At that time, each location was known as a “spring store” meaning they would only be open February through May. By 1938, however, May made the decision to operate each store year round and added products such as fertilizer, insecticides and other similar products to support the store in the winter months. This is where the garden center concept was born that is still being used in each location today.

Not only has the company survived for 100 years, it remains a family-owned operation. The company is run by the fourth generation of the May family.

“To have it for 100 years and four generations is kind of a rare thing these days. So on a personal level, it’s really, really nice to be a part of that,” Williams said. “They are great company to work for and work with. It’s just so exciting that this is happening.”

Company headquarters remain in Shenandoah with its offices and warehouse operating from there. There are currently 29 Earl May Garden Center locations across the Midwest in Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska and Missouri. The Newton location opened in 1974 and has been serving the community ever since.

“It’s definitely a benefit to the community but it’s a benefit to us as a company as well to be able to stay in one area and be so welcomed and be a part of the community,” Williams said.

Contact Pam Pratt at 641-792-3121 ext. 6530 or

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