Hard work made them stronger
Sharon old-timers will remember Ed Murchie as the owner of Murchie Flowers at 33 Vine Street in Sharon, as well as a couple of greenhouses. He worked long hours, often seven days a week.
Sometimes his wife Ruth was concerned that her husband was working too hard. She asked Ed’s stepmother Anna if she thought the work would hurt his health in later years.
Anna said, “Maybe not. It might make him stronger.”
On May 20 , Ed will celebrate his 96th birthday. He’s still active, and even gets out to play golf once a week. So it’s apparent that his stepmother was right.
He got his strength not just from the hard work, but also from his genes. His grandfather, John Murchie, came from Scotland during the 19th century.
“My grandmother was born on the White Cliffs of Dover,” Ed said. “She told us stories about her home there. Then during World War I my cousin, Stanley Ewing, was sent to England. When he came back, he told our grandmother that he had slept on her front lawn.”
His grandfather came to New Castle to work at Butz Greenhouse in New Castle, leaving his wife in Scotland until he got established.
“Then she came over,” Ed said, “My father’s oldest brother was born on the way over on the boat.”
After a while John moved to Sharon to do landscaping for Mr. Boyce’s greenhouse on North Irvine Avenue. Then he opened his own greenhouse on South Irvine Avenue. After a few years he moved it to the intersection of Addison Road and Brookfield Avenue in Masury.
“It was only about half a mile, but my grandfather said he wanted to get away from Sharon Steel’s smoke.”
Ed’s father was born in Sharon and practically grew up in the greenhouse. So did Ed.
In May, 1942, just a few days before his 30th birthday Ed was drafted into the Army Air Corps.
“I was in the service 43 months but I didn’t go overseas,” Ed said. “For three years I was an instructor in gunnery school at the airfield that later was named Edwards Air Force Base. On the hottest day there it was 143 degrees. They sent us to the Tri-Aircraft Corporation in Salt Lake City for gunnery school. He gave us a written test afterwards. The instructor said ‘Murchie, I can’t give you 100, but you almost got 100. Where did you learn to shoot?’ I told him I learned to shoot when I was 10 years old. I had a 12 gauge shotgun and used to go hunting a lot.”
When Ed came back from the service, he returned to work in the floral business.
“We raised almost everything – poinsettias, geraniums, petunias, whatever,” Ed said. We even had a palm house there. We sold mostly retail, and we filled cemetery urns in about ten different cemeteries. We delivered church decorations for weddings and other events.”
The church work made Saturday nights very busy.
“We would start church work after supper and work well into the night. The first church was St. John’s Episcopal, and then the United Presbyterian and the First Presbyterian. We also had a couple of others – a Christian Science and a Baptist church. The preacher at my church on Sunday used to say, ‘Ed, did you go to church this morning?’ I told him I had gone to about ten churches. That kept him quiet.”
As if the hard work wasn’t enough, they had to struggle with a number of disasters. The greenhouse burned down once, causing a loss of almost $100,000. And the Shenango River floods caused a lot of damage.
“We were flooded out 22 years in a row when we had a flower shop on Vine Street in downtown Sharon,” Ed said. “Once we had ten feet of water in the basement and three feet of water on the main floor.”
On March 19, 1955, Ed married Ruth Marie Saunders, a teacher from Youngstown whom he had met several years earlier.
“I was a farm girl in a family that had settled in Findlay, Ohio,” Ruth said. “My grandmother was one of about five or six children. Some of them got land grants from President Andrew Jackson. When my grandmother got married, her husband saw a farm on the outskirts of Findlay, and he knew it was a very good farm. So he asked Andrew Jackson if he could have a free farm, too. It was known as the Bair farm. It’s still there. My cousin still owns it.”
Ruth’s father became superintendent of schools in Hancock County, Ohio. But because the salary was so low, he applied to the Youngstown school district.
“He was used to the country kids, and they put him in the toughest schools in Youngstown.”
Ruth attended Youngstown College. After graduating, she taught in Youngstown schools for about 13 years.
“Then I just wanted to get out of there,” she said, “so I went to California with two friends and taught there for two years, and worked at Minter Airfield. But I came back because my parents were alone. My sister and my brother had gone.”
When she married Ed, she didn’t know whether or not she should keep on teaching.
“Then the woman working in Ed’s store left,” she said. “I liked flowers, so I went to Hickson School of Floral Design in Lakewood, near Cleveland. I stayed up there two or three weeks. Then I came back and we started working together.”
Ruth found Sharon a wonderful place to live and work.
“Sharon was such a warm city, with a high type of people,” she said. “Everyone was so nice to me when I came over here from Youngstown.”
Ruth loved the small-city atmosphere in Sharon’s downtown business community.
“I loved to go to the stores in Sharon. They were the finest places.”
Across the street from Murchie’s was Shontz and Myers Men’s Store.
“I remember, when I wasn’t busy, I’d run over to Shontz and Myers,” Ruth said. “They would give me a coat or jacket and say, ‘Take it over and have Ed try it on.’ They’d give me anything. And Whitmer’s would give me things for my mother to try on, and I used to buy for my aunt. You don’t get that in big cities.”
“My cousin John Murchie went to work for Republic Steel in Chicago,” Ed said. “He wouldn’t buy any clothes in Chicago. He would wait until he came home to shop at Shontz and Myers.”
“You would see him with his five kids,” Ruth said. “They’d come in the store from across the street, and they each had a big clothing box. They had wonderful suits over there for the boys and the girls.”
Ed and Ruth particularly remember a lot of other great stores and great people in downtown Sharon, particularly Phil Ellovich at Reznor Drugs. He helped them out in ways that you couldn’t have found back then in big cities, and that you couldn’t find anywhere at all today.
“Ruth would go over to get some medicine for her mother,” Ed said. He would ask what her symptoms were. Ruth would tell him, and he’d say, well, try this. Come back and let me know, and if it doesn’t work, we’ll try something else.”
Ed and Ruth spent most of their time together, not only at work but also during vacations. They loved to go fishing together in Canada.
“Ed had gone up to North Bay with the guys,” Ruth said. “Then he started taking me. Bob Duffy the jeweler right near us got us going up to Sugarbush Lodge in Ontario. We went to a lot of places, and found wonderful lodges, with the most wonderful Canadian people.”
Ed is very proud of his brother, Dr. William R. Murchie.
“Bill got his doctorate at the University of Michigan,” Ed said. “He did cancer research for 16 years. The results of his research are on display at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC. The University of Michigan built a $25 million science building and named it after him, the William R. Murchie Science Building. It has his name up in lights and you can see it all over the city of Flint.”
Unfortunately, he died of a stroke at age 49.
Ruth is just as proud of her husband and his accomplishments. He is still active in the Rotary Club after 57 years. After they retired, they worked with Meals on Wheels for seventeen years.
“He joined the golf league here last year,” Ruth said. “He came home the last day with a prize – closest to the pin. They announced it at the golf course. They said, ‘Look here who won the prize. You younger guys should be ashamed of yourselves.’”
“I was playing with two younger guys on the course,” Ed said. “They said, ‘Look at that ball go.’ I was outdriving them.”
Those young guys probably only dream of being that good when they’re nearing a century of life. But if they work hard enough, maybe they’ll have the strength to do it.