Tony Fulmer's Farewell

The time has come. After 34 years at Chalet, it’s time for the next chapter in my life. I shared my decision to retire with my boss and friend Larry Thalmann this week. As always, he was gracious, grateful, and full of good wishes for my future. 

I came to Chalet with my B.S. in Ornamental Horticulture from the U. of I. with literally 20 years of retail garden center experience already under my belt. I was hired as Nursery Manager, became Store Manager nine years later and more recently was named Chief Horticulture Officer. It has been my good fortune to work at Chalet, one of the very best garden centers, and more broadly, family-owned horticultural businesses (including our award-winning Landscape Services division) in the country. During my years as Retail Manager, we were awarded a number of “Best of….” honors, not only from within our industry, but by our customers. I’m very, very proud of those accomplishments.

It’s natural to reflect on these past 34 years and think about some of the firsts that were instituted while I was manager: Christmas Preview Party, the reindeer (yep, that was my crazy idea that still persists to this day), Garden Faire, Ladies’ Night Out, Pride Parades, and especially our education series, led by my colleague and friend Jennifer Brennan. I’m particularly proud of the quality (and quantity) of the presentations that we’ve offered to thousands and thousands of attendees in our Learning Center over the years. Thank you Larry for making that commitment to no-charge gardening education!  

I’ve been fortunate to know: Larry Thalmann, Jr. and his sister Diane Thalmann Stanton (Generation #2); the afore-mentioned Larry III and his wonderful wife Amy (Generation #3); and two of their three children, Lawson and Carleigh, who have joined the now 104-year old business.  

From Day One at Chalet I’ve felt truly blessed to have been given free rein when it came to trying new ideas, creating staff positions that never existed, instituting ideas that perhaps our industry had never tried before. And on a particularly rewarding personal note Chalet’s great reputation afforded me the very special privilege to do live television (a long run on WGN’s Mid-Day Show), as well as years of the Bill & Wendy Show on WGN radio. Chalet was also undoubtedly the catalyst for my first invitation to write for Fine Gardening magazine which I’ve done off-and-on now since 2012 (shameless plug alert, next in the December 2021 issue). These kinds of personal growth perks have been the fun icing on the very sweet cake of my Chalet career. My thanks to the Thalmann family for the incredible support I’ve always felt and the amazing opportunities I’ve been given. 

And lastly, thanks to you, our guests. While my degree was really a necessity for my job at Chalet so much of what I have shared with you over the years has been (l)earned from personal experience. If I’ve told you I think a plant is wonderful that’s because I’ve grown it or seen someone else grow it (likely one of my plant-crazed coworkers). Hopefully, that has translated into personal success in your garden. One of the nicest compliments I’ve received (many times, happily) is when a customer returns later and says, “The tree/shrub/perennial you recommended several years ago is doing so well and is just perfect for our site. Thank you for the great advice.” Whether face-to-face sharing, through teaching a class, or writing our blog your success was always the goal.  

And in return I’ve undoubtedly learned more “practical stuff” from you than I ever did in college. That’s right. Perhaps you’re not surprised either that no one’s ever asked me about Corn Smut (one of my required 200 level Plant Pathology courses). It’s the (now) 55 years of being challenged with your questions that have sent me scurrying to my Chalet colleagues, other industry professionals, whatever reliable source I could trust, to get the best, the most correct answer I could find…. for you. And that’s the information that has really stuck with me through the years. So, thank you for everything you’ve taught me. You’ve always kept me on my toes, for which I’m truly grateful!  

And now it’s time to sign off, say goodbye, and remind you to “Keep gardening.”  

My best,