Horticulture, landscaping and gardening have always played a primary role in Joel Shonnard’s life. He was only an infant of 6 months when his family moved from Bend to Philomath after his parents, Chris and Lynnette Shonnard, purchased the property that would become Shonnard’s Nursery.
Upon his dad’s retirement, Joel took over the role of president and helps oversee business operations. His primary position with the company is landscape division manager, which oversees all service operations.
When he was age 12, the family moved out to the Hoskins-Kings Valley area. After earning his diploma at Philomath High, Joel attended college at Oregon State University. Today, he and his wife, Nicki, live in a home that they purchased nine years ago (closing on the day their daughter was born). The couple has two children — Isabelle, 9, and Aidan, 7.
Joel Shonnard accepted an invitation to participate in this week’s Inside Philomath feature and answered five questions.
Q: Shonnard’s dates back to 1984. What was it like for you growing up around this family business … any fun stories from when you were a kid?
A: I remember spending time at the garden center as a kid. Sometimes just hanging out after school, helping my parents or staff with random tasks or going to job sites with my dad. Mother’s Day weekend is usually the busiest weekend of the year and I remember helping with carry-outs. Someone made a big sign that I wore to let people know I was there to help.
When my sister and I were bored at the garden center, we would take the plant carts up the bike path on Country Club Drive and ride them back down the hill. Now my kids come and hang out at the garden center sometimes and they love running around looking at all the plants, helping my sister process inventory and making flower arrangements. My 7-year-old son has even been learning to run an excavator at our shop.
Growing up in the family business throughout my life has shaped me to the person I am today. I have a great deal of respect for my parents and small business owners in general. My parents have worked very hard to build the business we run today and I’m very thankful for the exposure I got growing up. We have awesome customers and amazing employees making it a great place to work.
Q: The guess would be that your dad’s background and the family business played a role in the path you took with your education and career but what is it that you really love about horticulture and landscaping?
A: Yes, both of my parents graduated with hort degrees from OSU so that definitely played a role in the path I took. My mom and dad got me in contact with one of their professors who helped me with my senior project in high school studying crane fly in ornamental turf grass.
I considered a career in golf course management but it wasn’t for me. During college I was also working on the landscape crew and really wanted to take our water feature building to the next level. Every summer while in college my parents sent me to Illinois for a week to attend pond college at Aquascape (a water feature supply company). This education allowed us to develop a crew that focused on ornamental ecosystem water feature installation and maintenance. The creative nature behind building water features fit very well with my education and allowed me to find my place in the landscaping business.
I’ve now grown to enjoy the business management aspect of my job. I focus on the logistics of running the company and helping our employees get the tools and resources they need to be successful.
Q: The annual Christmas tree lighting is a popular event here in Philomath. What’s your perspective on this celebration and why have you stayed involved over the years?
A: A little background before I answer the question. During winter breaks late in high school, I always helped my dad by installing Christmas lights for his clients. It was a little painful at times because customers stored their own lights and you never knew what would be missing or what condition they would be in.
I continued to help while in college and saw an opportunity to take this division of the company to the next level. I remember a VHS tape showing up at the office from Brite Ideas. They laid out a great system of products and provided full service install, take down, storage and maintenance. I pitched it to my dad and he was on board. He provided the business infrastructure and my buddy and I used part of our student loan money to buy into the franchise.
Fast forward to today (18 years later) — we are self-proclaimed certified holiday lighting consultants and installation technician specialists. We manage around 200 residential and commercial displays in the local area. We have very dedicated staff from the office to the field that helps provide this unique service.
My parents helped with the installation of the new Philomath Christmas tree in 2008 and with the holiday lighting division in its infancy, it was a natural opportunity to donate our services and promote the business. It is such a great event for the community and always reminds me of Whoville.
I have always enjoyed being a part of this tradition that allows the community to come together and have no plans to stop being a part of it. My kids have been able to flip the switch and the joy you see on their face along with the other kids is a great experience. The tree started out around 19 feet tall and is now 57 feet tall. There are around 700 feet of lights on the tree. The strings are 15 years old and we plan to replace them this year.
Q: What are your thoughts on the Heritage Tree program that’s been launched in Philomath?
A: Such a cool program. My first nomination would of course be the Christmas tree at the museum and I’m happy to see it on the list for 2023. My parents always played a big role in planting trees around the city and I remember helping them plant. The program is a good fit for our community.
Q: What do you do for fun when you have time away from your daily routine?
A: I very much enjoy the outdoors. My family and I enjoy camping and skiing. I have always been an avid fisherman and hunter. Over the last few years my wife and kids have joined my dad and I on our annual elk hunting trip to eastern Oregon. True off-grid winter camping and everyone has a great time even if it’s snowing and blowing.
My wife and in-laws have a farm with horses, chickens, beef cows, a milk cow and a rabbit. We spend time there taking care of the animals and although I’m not much of a horseback rider, I enjoy watching them ride. I spend a lot of my free time fishing. Salmon and steelhead are my main focus but I also spend time in the ocean and occasional lake fishing. My son is hooked as well and loves to take a cast any chance he gets. My mom and dad have a boat that we take crabbing which the whole family enjoys.
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