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Published: Saturday, 9/20/2008

Wife helped run family greenhouse

Caroline M. Sell, 87, who with her husband, Ben, helped run the family greenhouse for about 40 years, died Thursday in the care center at Lutheran Village at Wolf Creek.

The cause of death was not known, but she had been in ill health since June, her son Dean said. She'd been at Wolf Creek for about two years and was in assisted living until July.

She retired about 1980 from Ben Sell Greenhouse, 5720 Dorr St. Her husband died Nov. 15, 1985. Sons Dean and Donald took over the business. They sold the greenhouse last year.

Mrs. Sell's father-in-law, Harry Sell, started the business in 1926. Her husband took it over about the time the couple married in 1940, son Dean said.

In the early years, the greenhouse grew produce in the winter for sale to local and Detroit markets. The greenhouse also started vegetable plants for springtime planting by farmers.

The couple always had sold extra plants to neighbors, but expanded the emphasis on home-planting customers when refrigerated railcars meant they no longer had to grow wintertime vegetables.

Success meant Mr. Sell could quit his night job at Kroger in the early 1950s and work full-time in the greenhouse. Through the years, 90 percent of their business became retail.

"People started getting an interest in flowers for outdoor use, and they started with that," Dean said. "When the big houseplant boom came along, we were one of the first ones out there [in the] early 1970s."

Mrs. Sell "did planting. She took care of customers, watering, general care of plants - the pinching, the trimming," her son said. "She enjoyed customers. She liked to see things grow. It's one of the jobs where you really see what you've done."

Growing things was more than a job. In her garden at the family home - which was in front of the greenhouse - she had annuals, perennials, and a rose bush or two. And she continued gardening long past retirement.

"She was so happy with her garden," her son said. "She puttered in that [and] we couldn't figure how she could do that with her arthritis so bad."

Mrs. Sell was on the go from the 1980s until 2002. She traveled with friends to Europe - she liked Germany especially - to Alaska, and to Mexico.

She was a former member of Epiphany Lutheran Church and, since the 1970s, of Providence Lutheran Church. She sang soprano in the choirs of both churches.

The daughter of Harley and Cora Hays, she grew up near Dorr and Reynolds Road in the former Adams Township. She was a graduate of DeVilbiss High School.

Surviving are her daughter, Janet Bartus; sons, Dean and Donald; brothers, Frank and Paul Hays; six grandchildren, and a great-granddaughter.

Services will be at 11 a.m. Tuesday in the Reeb Funeral Home, Sylvania, where the body will be after 3 p.m. Monday.

The family suggests tributes to the Lutheran Homes Society; Hospice of Northwest Ohio; Bittersweet Farms, or a charity of the donor's choice.



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