HANCOCK COUNTY — Ronald “Ron” Marlin started with one small greenhouse just south of Greenfield decades ago.
“And, as he would say, that was supposed to be his sanctuary,” said his daughter, Pam Mackey. “And it grew into what it is today.”
It grew into his kingdom, as the business would come to be called, eventually sprawling to 11 greenhouses filled with flowers and plants.
Marlin is remembered for his big heart as much as his green thumb after succumbing to sepsis on May 26 at age 79. He owned Marlin Plant Kingdom at 3333 S. State Road 9 for 40 years. His family and friends recall how he cared deeply for brightening Greenfield with flora, and how he planted the seed that garnered the city two wins in a nationwide beautification competition in the early 2000s.
Marlin is survived by his children, Tammey Bennett, Mackey and Gary Marlin, as well as his grandchildren and nephews.
“He was a fantastic father,” Mackey said. “He was a very loving, caring, supportive father. In his older years, he was very good about trying to lead you down the right road. He always tried to give us the best advice he could on things.”
After growing up on a farm, Marlin started a farm equipment repair business, but he never lost that desire to grow things on his own.
“The repair business was getting tough, and so he put up one little greenhouse,” Mackey said.
Marlin started by growing vegetables, and as challenges continued to mount in the repair business, he had a realization.
“He’s like, ‘If people would come and give me money for vegetables, I’m pretty sure they’d give me money for flowers,'” Mackey said. “And still to this day, we have always grown the majority of all our own things.”
The company’s first sales were at farmers markets before transitioning to a retail business. Marlin added more greenhouses to keep up with demand, and started building a staff.
“He liked being able to put a smile on people’s faces when they would come in and be excited about seeing things that he had grown,” Mackey said.
Mackey, who worked with her father for 22 years, now runs the business.
“I’m going to do my absolute best to continue his legacy,” she said. “That’s what he wanted; he wanted the greenhouse to go on.”
She’ll remember his willingness to help others the most.
“He was always out to help someone else, not himself,” Mackey said. “He was about giving.”
After starting with that first small greenhouse decades ago, he put up a larger one and began enlisting the help of some of his farmer friends.
Carol Sparks has worked part-time for Marlin Plant Kingdom since its inception.
“He was such a hard worker,” Sparks said of Marlin. “He worked really hard, and he had so much talent in growing things. You don’t get that from a book. You have to do it to know what to do, and what to feed them, and what not to, and all the pests. There’s a lot to growing things successfully.”
She’s transplanted seedlings for the business and made Mother’s Day floral arrangements over the years.
“There were so many flowers to pick from, and it was just a joy,” Sparks said.
She thinks Marlin’s love of plants stemmed from growing up on a farm, something he never lost as he worked as a mechanic and served as a firefighter. It’s a joy she can relate to, living on a farm herself.
“It’s a passion; you just don’t lose playing in the dirt,” she said with a laugh.
Marlin and Judy Swift were part of efforts in 2004 to enter Greenfield in America in Bloom, a national community beautification competition involving flowers, plants, trees and other environmental and lifestyle enhancements. He even paid the city’s $600 entry fee. Greenfield took the top spot in its class that year and again in 2006. It led to the start of a local competition and beautification initiative called Greenfield in Bloom, to which Marlin donated a utility vehicle, water tank and pump for keeping flowers hydrated downtown.
“The whole experience of America in Bloom was one of my favorite things I’ve done in life,” Swift said. “We brought together like-minded people who cared about beautification efforts, and Greenfield had so much started already that it was just perfect for Greenfield to enter. And Ron just was the spearhead. He is the one that brought a magazine article and said, ‘I think we should do this.’ He just needed to find somebody to actually do it, and so the two of us did it. We got a committee together and did a fabulous job.”
Swift said Marlin took notice of communities he visited that excelled in beautification efforts.
“He wanted that for Greenfield,” she said. “And he didn’t just want it, he was willing to put forth the effort to get it.”