A Memorial Tribute has been established through the American Floral Endowment (AFE) honoring Kathleen ‘Katie’ Kennicott, who passed away on October 13, 2023, at the age of 86.
Many in the floral industry knew Katie Kennicott best as the sunny, astute, and engaging wife (64 years) of Harrison ‘Red’ Kennicott of the Chicago-based wholesale distributor Kennicott Brothers Company; however, Katie also played a direct role in the company’s success. Over more than 60 years of active involvement in the floral industry, she showed a special talent for making strong connections with customers, suppliers, and others—connections that have helped to change the face of the industry.
Katie met Red when both were students at Michigan State University; they married the summer after Red graduated in 1959. While Red went straight into the family business for five years, Katie pursued the career she had prepared for, teaching math to eighth-graders.
Eventually, however—and perhaps inevitably, given her abilities—she was drawn into service with Kennicott Brothers as a customer relations representative. This was at a time when, as Katie herself related in an interview conducted in the fall of 2018, “There were no women in the wholesale flowers business at all. Zero.”
She took to it like a duck to water, quickly establishing rapport with Kennicott Brothers’ retail florist customers, who were mostly women, visiting their locations and quickly becoming a friend. She always followed up each visit with a personal note. She visited prospects as well as customers. Many, even if they did not become customers, became lifelong friends.
Katie used to tell the story of visiting one customer who hadn’t made any purchases from Kennicott Brothers for a while. The customer explained why she was angry: she could not get a 72-cent charge, one that she regarded as erroneous, removed from her bill. The charge had already cost Kennicott’s hundreds of dollars worth of business. Katie not only promised to get the charge removed, she took 72 cents out of her purse and handed it to the customer. It took that personal visit and a woman-to-woman talk to straighten the situation out.
In part because of Katie’s role and presence, around this time, the Wholesale Florists & Florist Suppliers Association (WF&FSA) organized a panel at its annual convention featuring women leaders like Arlene Sorensen of Lincoln Wholesale Florists Co. in Lincoln, Nebraska, who later became a president of WF&FSA. The panel marked a turning point and a new era for women in the wholesale florist business.
Over a period of at least 40 years, Katie came along with Red to nearly every WF&FSA and SAF annual convention, strengthening the company’s connection to suppliers as well as to customers and always giving back to the industry. Together, they helped establish and became founding members of AFE’s Legacy Circle, an honorary group of industry members who made provisions for a planned gift to AFE to support the work of the Endowment.
When cut-flower production began to shift to South America, she traveled with her husband to meet with growers and shippers, helping to establish relationships in a new and unfamiliar part of the world.
This was in an era when Colombia was wracked with civil strife. Katie and Red were visiting the Medellin area around the time that drug lord Pablo Escobar was shot and killed by the Colombian national police. “Peasants from the fields, where they were growing coca, were thrown off their lands,” Katie later recalled. “And the flower growers down there took all those people in, housed them, put them to work, and educated the kids. We were down there, and we said, we can help.”
With willing help from employees, friends, customers, and industry partners, Katie organized clothing drives that delivered much-needed help to the dislocated flower farm employees. The clothing drives, however, were among many philanthropic efforts that Katie and Red have supported over the years, in and out of the industry, on a local and national level.
On top of her work for Kennicott Brothers, her other industry activities, and being an avid Cubs fan, Katie was a mom to five kids, a grandmother to 14, and had 11 great-grandchildren and one great-great-grandchild. A son, Stephen, and granddaughter, Paige, are employed at Kennicott Kuts, the network of flower farms specializing in peonies that began in Illinois in 1836 and today stretches from Chile to Alaska.
Katie’s was a life that touched many other lives. Those who knew her will remember her saying, “That was fun.” So, it was.
There will be a private family service and a Celebration of Life planned for a later time.
This Memorial Tribute Fund has been established to forever honor Katie and her legacy. Contributions to the Katie Kennicott Memorial Tribute can be made online here or by sending a check with this form to:
American Floral Endowment
c/o Katie Kennicott Memorial Tribute
610 Madison Street, Suite 101, PMB 803
Alexandria, VA 22314
American Floral Endowment
Tel.: +1 (703) 838-5211