Paul Phypers Sr. was born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1903. He graduated from Case Western University, and played semi-pro ball for the Cleveland Panthers. Paul enjoyed building things, and selling things, but most of all he enjoyed growing things. Despite the depression of the early 30’s, he managed to purchase a 100-acre potato farm in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin. Paul named it Happiness Farms, and decided that its corporate motto, which would appear on every bag of potatoes, would read “For Your Satisfaction, Enjoyment, and Health”.
To supplement his income, Paul sold tractors for the Cleveland Tractor Company of Euclid, Ohio during the winter season. The most popular model was a ‘narrow track’, ideal for cultivating vegetables. Paul called on customers in Florida, where farming continued year round.
It was on one of his trips to Florida in the mid 1940’s that Paul Phypers met Bill Melvin, a Chicago building contractor who owned a great deal of property in Florida. Bill and his brother were among the contractors who had built the famous Palmer House in downtown Chicago.
Paul partnered with Bill Melvin to grow potatoes on 300 acres of a 700 acre farm that Melvin owned in Lake Placid. The potatoes were processed in a warehouse at the Sebring-Hendricks Airfield, where Air Force pilots had been trained during the second world war. Automated packaging equipment was not readily available in the 1940’s. Packaging produce for market was a very labor intensive business, so Paul applied his knowledge of tractor mechanics to designing packaging machines, and invented a packaging system that was superior to anything else available in its day.
In 1948, Paul was encouraged to try his hand at flower growing. There was a flourishing market in New York and all along the east coast, and Paul’s experience with packing and shipping would soon figure in to his becoming successful at serving that market.
Paul discontinued potato farming, and ended his partnership with the Melvins. He purchased a 40 acre banana farm from a woman named Mrs. Saunders, a South African woman who had been a nurse prior to moving to Florida. The ‘Banana Farm’ was actually composed of mucky, lake-bottom land that had been a part of Lake Clay. The mucky soil, which was up to 15’ deep, proved to be excellent for growing Chrysanthemums, Easter Lilies, and Gerbera Daisies. The cut flower business demanded fast shipment, and Paul’s packaging machines were designed to get the flowers to market quickly.
Meanwhile, the Melvins had sold their property to a cattle rancher, who in 1957 sold the property to Max Hoffman, a sod farmer. Hoffman decided to experiment with growing caladiums along the sides of his field. About a half dozen small growers had attempted to grow bulbs commercially in the late 40’s on a combined total of about 50 acres. It didn’t appear to be very profitable, but Hoffman decided to try it anyway. Two other families – the Hendry family and the Bates family – also started growing caladiums in Lake Placid in the 1950’s.
By the mid 1960’s, nearly 25 growers were involved in commercial Caladium growing, and the Caladium market was beginning to gain notice, at a time when the cut flower market was becoming glutted with suppliers.
Many people had never heard of Caladiums. Most had never seen one. Here was a beautiful, back yard plant, with terrific potential, that had gone virtually unnoticed by gardeners everywhere. A big part of the problem, of course, was that they were not in abundant supply.
Phypers decided in 1964 that the time had come for him to jump in with both feet. He purchased half of the sod farm that had been owned by Max Hoffman, added that to the Banana Farm, and Happiness Farms quickly became the largest caladium grower in Lake Placid, which is known today as the Caladium Capital of the World. Only about a dozen growers continue to work the 1200 acres of low-pH lake bottom that have proven so fertile for caladium development.
Phypers decided that Caladium research was essential for the long range cultivation of these beautiful foliage plants, and encouraged the University of Florida to begin working with Caladiums in the mid 1970’s. Dr. Gary Wilfret, whose column “Ask the Doctor” appears on our web site, was for many years head of Caladium research at the University of Florida, and is now an independent consultant based in Sarasota.
Among his many accomplishments, Paul Phypers is credited with developing one of the fifty varieties of Caladiums that are commercially available today. It’s called Galaxy, because it resembles a field of colorful stars, and its quite rare. Only Happiness Farms grows Galaxy, and only six acres are under production.
Paul Phypers Sr. died in 1999, but the legacy of Happiness Farms continues on with Paul’s two sons, Daniel and Paul Phypers Jr., and his seven grandchildren – Steven, Randy, Craig, Paula, Jennifer, Danielle and Drew.