- After four decades in the business, you might think Leo and Mary Kay Horant would be leaning toward retirement. But Leo would tell you his greenhouse is his vacation spot.
"This is my happy place," Horant said Tuesday morning. "I'll work 12 hours a day."
Never was that more apparent than eight months ago. Fire ripped through the Eagle River couple's home and garden center on Highway 70 August 17, 2015. The Horants' "Gardener's Gate" greenhouse near Pick 'n Save became something of a lifeboat.
"Mary came over [the morning of the fire]," Leo recalled. "[She told the paramedics] He wants to go to work. And I came here at 7 or 8 in the morning and opened up and did the work and i don't think I've seen the fire yet."
Leo Horant went back to work just hours after the fire nearly killed him and Mary Kay. The gardener now suffers from lapses of memory loss and bad eyesight, but the couple was determined to keep working.
"Leo always wishes for more space, but i think it's manageable," Mary Kay said of their current greenhouse. "I think it's very good."
The Horants opened a temporary floral shop in the Vilas County Business Incubator late last summer. They then spent the winter preparing the Gardener's Gate for the spring's annual rush. That's turned into a challenge for Mary Kay any time an old customer calls with an order.
"I'm an old fashioned person, I do have paper records, or I did," Horant says with a sigh. "They're not there and it's just, Oh, we have to do this a little different this year, but we're getting it done."
That may be an understatement. Despite the fire, the Horants booked 32 weddings this year and are busy taking 30 to 40 mother's day orders each day.
"They're calling from Texas, they're doing this," Leo said. "It's like, yeah, we're calling from Eagle River. Oh, you're right in eagle river? No, Eagle River, Alaska." Leo rattled off other locations where they still get customers too, including Ontonagon and Marquette, Michigan, Land O' Lakes, Phelps, St. Germain and Sayner.
"We can't believe the outpouring [of support] and just the concerns [from the community] still," Mary Kay said.
Crews tore down the old home and garden center on the city's south side months ago and the Horants say they're still working on insurance to determine if rebuilding is financially viable. But the couple knows they want to stay put.
"We'll just see how it evolves," Mary Kay said. "But Horant's will always have a presence here as a florist. As long as we're around."
For this couple, that could mean working for a decade or more, perennially returning to a community that's showing the Horant's another form of beauty.
"Every day, like I said, is a challenge, but we're blessed to be here," Mary Kay said before turning to a potted plant. "We are blessed to still be here."