Kalamazoo, Mich., grower Larry Boven, who died in a helicopter crash on Friday, will be remembered as an entrepreneur, innovator and adventurer who had a zest for life.
Boven, 68, was very experienced flying helicopters and small airplanes the last 40 years. Last Thursday, he purchased a used helicopter in Minnesota and flew it to Michigan. Something wasn’t quite right with it and he was test driving it again with an instructor on Friday in a nature preserve near his farm property, his daughter, Laurie Boven Pomeroy, said on Monday. He went up once with the instructor, then again without the instructor when the engine stopped and the helicopter crashed. The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating.
“It was just a shock, totally unexpected,” Laurie said. “We always knew he’d go this way but we didn’t think it would be now. He just bought a couple of ultralight planes, too. At least he was up having fun and doing what he liked to do when this happened.”
Larry is survived by his wife, Barbara; daughters, Laurie, Pamela and Christine; nine grandchildren; sisters Nancy Wenke and Beth Triesenberg; and mother, Effie Boven. On Monday, Laurie was expecting between 800 and 1,000 people to attend the funeral service today at Haven Church and the calling hours yesterday at Langeland Funeral Home. “Friends are flying in from all over,” she said. “He never met anyone who didn’t become a friend. He just liked everybody.”
Last summer, Larry sold Boven’s Quality Plants to two enterprising young growers. The 14-acre Van Boven’s greenhouse facility was sold to grower employee Nirmal Shah, who grew up in India and came to this country to pursue a career in horticulture at Penn State University. The original seven-acre Boven’s facility was purchased by another grower employee, Kris van de Streek and his wife, Stacy.
Not one to ever retire, Larry was pursuing a variety of business interests, including a horse barn with his daughter Pam, an idea for an online auction business and he just purchased a downtown office building. “He loved getting involved in all sorts of things,” Laurie said. “He was not one to stop doing things. It kept him vibrant and alive.”
Boven’s Lasting Legacy
Among the Kalamazoo growers, Larry was a real trailblazer and often the first to embrace new technology and methods. He was the first to install a monorail system and conveyor belts in his greenhouses, the first to use flat-filling equipment and the first to install flood floors and build gutter-connected greenhouses in Kalamazoo. It wasn’t unusual for fellow growers to spend a quiet Saturday afternoon at Boven’s checking out the latest equipment and strategies.
“Larry should be remembered as an innovator who was very important to many people,” said Kris van de Streek. “He was never one to back down from a challenge and would always try to find a better way to do things. Whether that meant doing trials of his own or visiting other greenhouses and talking with others, he was dedicated to growing the highest quality plants as efficiently as possible.”
Dean Cramer of B&C Greenhouse near Boven’s was a customer and long-time business associate and friend. He says Larry was an industry leader, man of integrity and a family man who loved his children and grandchildren. “All the years I’ve known him, he was always one to try new things and go to the next level,” he said. “He was always doing something new, something better. He was independent, but his ideas were right on most of the time. He did a good job with everything he did.”
Dennis and Lorence Wenke of Wenke Greenhouses grew up with Larry and Lorence married Larry’s sister, Nancy. Both of their fathers were celery farmers and neighbors. “I’ve known Larry since he was 16 and got his first white corvette,” Dennis said. “He liked things that would go fast and look good. He used to have a bumper sticker that said ‘the man with the most toys wins.’ He came very close.”
Lorence and Larry built Sunbelt Greenhouses in Georgia together and then Lorence bought him out. Larry also helped build Crossroads Greenhouse in Indiana, which is heated by methane gas from a landfill. “We also bought a boat together and traveled around Lake Michigan,” Lorence said. “I never would have done that without him.”
He recalls a time he flew down to Georgia with Larry in a small rented plane with a pilot. “Ice was building up on the wings in Kentucky and we were losing altitude, but when we came down, the ice melted off,” Lorence recalls. “It was pretty scary and the pilot’s hands were shaking.”
The Wenkes note this recent crash wasn’t Larry’s first brush with an aircraft accident. About 20 years ago, he went on a hunting trip with other growers and Dave Smith of Pine View Greenhouses drowned when the plane crashed into a body of water. Larry and the pilot survived. “People who love to fly keep doing it until they can’t fly anymore,” Lorence says.
Long-time business associate and friend Lisa Oliver shares her memories and warm sentiments for Larry Boven. They worked together for years while she was the plant buyer for the Franks nursery and craft chain and often attended the California Pack Trials together. Read more here.
Greenhouse Grower Editor Delilah Onofrey shares her memories of Larry Boven.
Read more here.