Jim White is a true example of a Grinnellian who services the town and the College, and the humble florist’s kindness and optimism have clearly resonated with both the townspeople and college students.
White is best known as the owner of Bates Flowers & Greenhouse. Born and raised in Poweshiek County, White moved from Malcolm to Grinnell when he was 21 years old to work at Bates Flowers as a florist. White eventually bought the shop from founder Roy Bates’s grandson, who worked primarily as a pharmacist and operated the shop and a lunch counter on the side. For the past 47 years, White has continued the legacy of Bates Flowers that has been a presence in Grinnell since 1907.
The shop not only has had a long history within the town, but it has also grown along with the College.
“Bob Noyce delivered for us. George Drake, who was a past president, delivered for us. We’ve had a long, long, long history with Grinnell College. They’re our friends,” White said.
Many students have also come to know White through the years. White and his wife have generously hosted over 45 international students and are always open to students visiting his store just to chat.
“We have kids where we might not know their last name, we might not know where they’re from, but they’ll come visit with us, have a can of pop and a cookie and sit on the steps and talk to us. We have a bond,” White said. “Not a lot of people treat college kids that way.”
White’s kindness to students has not gone unnoticed. In 2000, White received an honorary degree from that year’s graduating class. Additionally, the White family has been honored with a dining room named “The White Room” from an alumnus that he and his wife had hosted.
White’s connections to the College do not stop there. White’s daughter is Sarah White, the Associate Dean of Admissions, and his son-in-law is professor Henry Rietz, Religious Studies.
When he isn’t putting together arrangements at the shop or chatting with college students, White serves the community as a City Council member and Rotarian, having done both for 38 years and counting. White also enjoys traveling around the world, collecting antiques, playing old-time 1920s tunes on the piano and riding his 1963 Nova SS convertible he restored with his wife.
However, he cites meeting people as his favorite thing to do.
“Take me somewhere where I don’t know a soul and see if I can’t find a friend. I’m not scared of a stranger. I love the challenge. They’re just friends I haven’t met! I like that,” White said.
In regards to his line of work, White explained that a love for people and their stories is integral. His philosophy of being kind to whomever he meets is reflected in his work.
“I’m in the business that sells sentiment. If you don’t have feelings, this is not the business to be in. I treat my employees like a family, and my customers are a part of my extended family. I think that’s just what you gotta do,” White said. “If you show kindness, you’ll get kindness back. And if you don’t, still do it. Don’t give up. You don’t know how bad they’ve been hurt. That’s my motto. Don’t give up.”
Having found pure bliss in Grinnell, White perfectly embodies everything about small-town happiness.
“I’m not going to be rich or famous, but I have a wealth of friends. I feel my store family, my family and my customers mean the world to me. Crazy that I am, I’m happy,” White said.