31 May Enjoying the fruits of his labors
By Vivian Lawson Hogue
If you ever ask a child what he or she wants to be when he grows up, you will most often hear, “A policeman, fireman, nurse, teacher.” Why? Because those are exciting or helpful or both. Probably most of those who choose those fields as a child do not actually follow those wishes exactly, but they may come close.
I recently became acquainted with a person whose talents, interests, and early home and farm experiences led to his businesses. Dale Collins’ successful plant nursery business is both blooming and booming this spring.
Dale was born and raised in Conway, living on his maternal grandfather’s ancestral home place almost all his life. He said, “Our people have been on this same place for at least 96 years.” His parents are Ervin and Rosalee Collins, and his children are Matt, Sarah, and Rebekkah. He was married 31 years to the late Sheryl Lynn Barnard of Vilonia. Dale operated a roofing company for 30 years, closing it in 2017 so he could care for his wife. She passed away a week later and is buried in a flower-covered plot in historic Oak Grove Cemetery. His son purchased some of the roofing business and opened his own company, still with the family name. Collins began his nursery business that same year.
“I began the Presidential Gardens Backyard Nursery after my wife died. I had worked with plants most of my life, becoming known as ‘The Conway Plant Man,’” he said. “I received my natural interest from the gardens of my father, grandmother, and great-grandmother.”
Collins was very active in Future Farmers of America in high school and held local and state offices. He owes much to that program and its sponsor, Garland Williams, who encouraged him to join FFA and who gave him a life direction. He did join and became chapter president. He later ran for state president, traveling to 160 schools to campaign, but did not win. At the time, he commented that he may not have won in votes but he won in experience. He said, “The experience that I received from running for state FFA president and traveling across the state as we did made me a winner.” It was from gratitude in having bettered his life with good character, responsibility, leadership qualities and community involvement that he named his “Presidential” nursery business.
During this time, he became acquainted with the late State Sen. Stanley Russ, another former FFA member. Their association lasted until Russ’ death in 2017. Another acquaintance was the late former Arkansas Gov. Frank White, who also supported FFA. When Gov. White died in 2003, his casket was carried out of the Arkansas State Capitol rotunda by Arkansas State Police officers, with Dale the only civilian to walk behind it to the hearse.
He attended the University of Arkansas on a full four-year scholarship but left to pursue the ministry, and soon after, his long-time roofing business. He stated, “Our business mission is to promote a healthier and more sustainable lifestyle by helping people establish or expand their gardens and homesteads.” He started with shrubs and flowers raised from his own cuttings and proudly said, “This year we have already had visitors from 40 counties and seven states.
“We have friendly and knowledgeable customer service in a Christian, country environment,” he said. “I get to help new people almost every day, many who have relocated here from changing cities and are future-minded when it comes to their food supply.”
While flowers, blueberries and figs are his favorite plants, he specializes in fruit trees, muscadines, figs, grapes, and various blackberries. “Several of our varieties originate at the U of A plant breeding program, and I enjoy when they send people here to get their plants. I usually have non-GMO vegetables that I grow personally. I don’t spray with any poisons or use commercial fertilizers.”
When you pull into his business, you will be greeted by a bearded gentleman, sometimes in overalls, who will shout, “Howdy, neighbors and friends!” You’ll find Dale enjoys people as much as he does his plants.