By JIM KEVLIN • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
In the midst of the 50-car drive-by celebrating Carol B. Waller’s retirement as Mohican Flowers’ proprietor, a customer stopped by looking for greens to decorate his home for Christmas.
Carol and her 42-year assistant, Claire Satriano, who was also honored at the event, ducked into the store and got him what he needed.
“They work until it’s done,” said Elaine Bresee, who spent three weeks organizing the parade with Carol’s husband Bill, and witnessed that small act of supreme customer service on Saturday, Dec. 19.
On the coldest day of the season so far, friends and admirers began lining up their cars at 2:30 p.m. on Railroad Avenue, just around the corner from 207 Main St., where the Bateman-Waller family has operated Mohican Flowers, founded in 1901, for 50 years.
Leading off was a Cooperstown Fire Department pumper, sirens and horn blaring, bearing Mayor Ellen Tillapaugh Kuch and Fire Chief Jim Tallman, with Deputy Chief Glenn Falk driving.
Santa and Mrs. Claus followed, then a Cooperstown EMT vehicle, lights flashing, carrying Squad Chief Eric Pierce with wife Alisia and daughter Abigail.
Many longtime friends followed, including White House Innkeepers Marge and Ed Landers, and Hank Phillips, retired Withey’s pharmacist and wife Dottie. Jo Ann Lamonica was up from Oneonta for the celebration.
Carol said husband Bill told her to sit by the window with her coat on. When Elaine showed up to hatch the surprise, she asked Carol, “What are you doing there?”
When the parade began, Bill set Carol up in a chair by the sidewalk, with Claire by her side and Satriano husband Bill and son Chris behind them. Bill, an avid photographer, worked the scene.
Many folks pulled over to present gifts. State Sen. Jim Seward, R-Milford, himself retiring at year’s end, and wife Cindy presented a clock that marks the days of the week, not hours and minutes.
“That was quite an outpouring. She was in tears – and that infectious laugh!” the senator observed.
“Since,” said husband Bill, “a number of people have called to say, ‘If I’d known, I would have been there.’”
Carol and Bill were raised, met and married on Huntington, L.I., and moved to Cooperstown in 1970, when her dad, Charles Bateman, who had retired as president of Hi-Temp, which supplied wire to NASA, bought Mohican Flowers in 1970. He trained as an unpaid intern at a downstate florist six months, then moved to Cooperstown.
Carol worked for her dad. By the mid-‘80s, the medical-equipment company Bill was working for transferred the family to Boulder, Colo. Returning in 1990, Carol’s dad, by then also a veteran county representative, asked her at dinner, “What are you going to get involved in now? Why don’t you do something meaningful?”
Soon, she was elected to the Village Board, serving four years as trustee, four years as deputy mayor and, beginning in 2002, eight years as mayor. High points included obtaining and completing the village’s first sizeable federal grant: for the renovation of Linden Avenue and creation of the “Blue Lot.”
During this period, as her current successor as mayor, Ellen Tillapaugh Kuch, noted in a proclamation she presented Waller last Saturday, Carol got involved in the 4Cs – the Cooperstown Community Christmas Committee.
Along the way, the Wallers raised three children, all successful. Bill, now semi-retired in Washington State at 51, is an attorney by way of Colgate and Harvard Law. Scott, 47, teaches math at D.C.’s Gonzaga Prep, where he’s coached two soccer teams to national championships. Kirsten, 38, is up for a big promotion to senior director of the cancer center at a San Diego hospital. The Wallers have seven grandchildren.
The couple plan to close the shop Dec. 31, and retire as of New Year’s Day. There have been inquiries from prospective buyers, so this may not be the end for Mohican Flowers.
The Wallers plan to stay in the village, although, as COVID declines, they hope to borrow an RV from a friend and drive across the country to visit their children and grandchildren.
An era is ending.
Elaine Bresee “had gone for a drive-by for a lady in Oneonta. I saw how wonderful it was,” perfect for recognizing Carol and Claire’s dedication.
She and Carol were members of the Lake & Valley Garden Club, and Elaine also provided flowers at Christ Episcopal Church once a month, so she experienced Mohican Flowers at full throttle.
She recalled the whirl of activity just before one Valentine’s Day, when two funeral directors called with funerals scheduled for the same time. “Carol and Claire looked at each other, then went right back to work.”
“There’s never any time off,” Bresee said. “They both worked so hard, I wanted to show my appreciation for everyone at the shop.”
“I can’t imagine Cooperstown without a florist,” she said.