Elfrieda Ruetenik had roots in the small historic village of Zoar. Following the end of World War II she wanted to live there full-time, so her husband, Bernard Ruetenik, looked around for something to occupy his time after his upcoming retirement as a mechanical engineer. He and his son Gustave, still an engineering student at Cornell, settled on forestry and timber production, and they purchased an 80 acre tract outside of Zoar in 1947.
Tree seedlings and lots of other items were unavailable after the war, so they obtained spruce and fir seeds – “floor sweepings” – and grew their own seedlings behind the log cabin and on land near the local brewery. These were then transplanted to the new property to grow into standing timber.
Around this time Bernie was hired for an engineering project starting up in Brazil and Paris, and was out of the country for over two years. During his absence Gus grew to realize that growing lumber was not going to be profitable, and he migrated the operation to Christmas tree production. They harvested their first Christmas trees in 1953 after six years of growth.
Gus had a full-time job as an engineer for Ohio Bell Telephone, and lived and worked in the Cleveland area. On Friday nights, he and his wife Tish and their four children made the two hour drive to Zoar. They worked all weekend planting, shearing, mowing, and tending to the farm, then drove home Sunday night to start a new week.
In the early years all trees were sold wholesale to tree lot operators, but this proved to be unprofitable. Gus began retail sales in the mid-1960s, and had discontinued wholesale by the late 1970s. In 1981 he retired from Ohio Bell and moved to the farm full time, 35 years after his mother’s initial suggestion.
Retail sales was more work – keeping the fields neatly mowed and setting up for customer self-service – but ultimately more rewarding. He says, “This has really been a hobby that I work awfully hard at. It keeps me busy and it is always something different, and I like talking to people.” Gus sells an average of 1,000 trees each season with the help of several local high school students and his grown children and their families.
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