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True Grinnellian: Jim White, kindest man in Grinnell

Jim White, owner of Bates Flowers, poses inside his flower store.
Jim White, owner of Bates Flowers, poses inside his flower store.

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.


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  • C

    Connie LockerApr 19, 2015 at 10:04 am

    Jim is the greatest of mankind! He has a heart that is so full of love & kindness – God made him to be very special for us here in this world. He deserves the best place in Heaven when he is called Home – thanks for being the best!

  • H

    Harriett WisecarverSep 13, 2014 at 2:56 pm

    Jim is a great guy, he loves people, he’d bend over
    backwards to help someone out. I’ve known Jim since
    way back, and he has been through a lot of serious
    illness, but he has a strong faith which pulls him
    through every time, he says, “if it’s my time to go”, I’m ready.
    They raised a wonderful family.
    The “Flower Shop” has been his successful life; he
    always has had a talent with flowers, which he instilled into the people that work for him. If
    Jim’s around, and he hears a familiar voice, he will yell out a “Hello” and your name, from what ever he’s working on; sometimes he’d call you to
    come down there he wanted to show you something.
    No matter what, Jim doesn’t forget anyone, he always has a “Smile” on his face and good “Hello”.
    How he does all the things he belongs to, wears me out to think about it.
    Of course, Marsha, probably is a lot of help behind
    Keep the Faith, Jim, you’re a great friend!!!!


  • D

    denise sedlockSep 12, 2014 at 6:34 pm

    I totally agree with this!!!!!!! Jim is the nicest man I have ever met and most definately the kindest man in Grinnell:)

  • J

    Julie MeldremSep 12, 2014 at 6:01 pm

    Jim White is one of the most caring person I have ever known. The day after I graduated high school in 1977 Jim hired me as a designer where I worked at his flower shop for many years. He loved getting to know others and if anyone was facing a hardship he was the first one to help or find the right person who could. I know of many casket pieces made in his flower shop where families never got billed who could not afford them. Jim and his wife Marcia made our family part of their family. It’s been an honor knowing Jim and his family. Jim is loved by many. And he will always hold a special place in my heart!!