A successful, award-winning businesswoman in Ontario’s Niagara Peninsula, Alice Koornneef Klamer ’76 will tell you, “I wouldn’t have chosen to do this.”
“This” is Blue Sky Nursery, 70 acres in Beamsville where she governs the growing, selling and delivering of more than 1,500 plant varieties to independent garden centers and landscape contractors all over Ontario and into Quebec.
In 1979 Klamer was a teacher—French and German—at Hamilton (Ont.) District Christian High School when her husband told her he wanted to start a pick-your-own blueberry farm.
“I grew up on a fruit farm,” Klamer said, “and I saw how it consumed my dad. It was the last thing I wanted. But I did want to support my husband.”
Together they bought 3,000 blueberry cuttings. They couldn’t afford land for the pick-your-own farm, so Don Klamer ripped the yellow pages out of phone books and pedaled blueberry bushes in gallon containers out of the back of his pickup to garden centers across the province.
On his rounds he found that no one in Ontario was growing rhododendrons and azaleas. Soon the couple were renting land in Winona and raising rhododendrons and azaleas—blueberry bushes, too. They christened their business Blue Sky Acres.
Within five years, expanding product lines and expanding sales allowed them to buy a rundown 21-acre fruit farm in Beamsville, which they incorporated in 1986 as Blue Sky Nursery Ltd.
Also expanding was the couple’s family. When their third and fourth sons, twins, were born that year, Alice quit teaching. The business and four boys were more than a full-time job.
Then, in 2000, Don died of multiple myeloma.
“Some people thought I would sell and go back to teaching,” Klamer said, “but I felt God calling me to run the business.”
The call had a steep learning curve.
“Don kept most of the business in his head, nothing on paper,” she said. “I was determined not to let that happen again.”
She met with a consultant who helped her write job descriptions, make a master budget and create policies. She drew on critical thinking skills she’d learned at Calvin and what she’d learned about governance through 20 years of service on various school boards. She read lots of books.
“I’m very detail oriented,” Klamer said. “The most difficult part was learning to think more conceptually, to become a visionary. God really blessed me in that.”
She would “work night and day for years, taking care of my kids and the business.”
Today Blue Sky Nursery is three times the size it was when she took over. Though Klamer still runs it, she now has “tremendous freedom to be gone,” she said, “because I’ve empowered employees to do the job,” including sons Clinton ’04 and Lance ’08.
With her freedom, Klamer has invested herself in the surrounding community, serving on the boards of the Lincoln Rotary and Lincoln Chamber of Commerce, which last year gave her its Community Partner Award, and the West Lincoln Memorial Hospital Foundation Board, which named her its 2012 Philanthropist of the Year. Farther afield, she serves on the boards of the Back to God Hour, the Canadian Hallmarks Institute and Calvin Alumni Association.
“I’ve been so blessed with the opportunities I’ve received to serve,” she said. “I truly believe that you make a living by what you earn, but you make a life by what you give.”