He helps churches make season bright

Antigo’s Frisch says growing poinsettias at his greenhouse is a gift from God

Your Catholic Neighbor: Jim Frisch (Lisa Haefs | For The Compass)

ANTIGO — Jim Frisch knows that his ability to grow beautiful plants is a gift from God. At Christmas, he returns it to the altar.

Frisch, co-owner with Jean Frisch Hubatch of Frisch Greenhouses in Antigo, spent the last four months nurturing a thousand poinsettias — among the most traditional of the holiday’s symbols — for use throughout northeastern Wisconsin. As Christmas Eve arrives, he has completed his deliveries to the altars of dozens of churches, stretching from the small villages of Bevent in Marathon County to Elcho, Pickerel, White Lake and Lakewood/Townsend in Oconto County.

“Our Advent season lasts 16 weeks, starting from when we prepare the greenhouses to receive the poinsettias and culminating the week before Christmas,” Frisch said. “There isn’t a day that goes by that I am not thinking about Christmas. It is a wonderful season.”

Poinsettias, native to Mexico and Central America, were first used by the Aztecs in traditional medicine. Part of the plant’s association with Christmas began in the 16th century, with a legend that tells of a poor girl being inspired by an angel to place roadside weeds at the altar in honor of the birth of Jesus. The lowly weeds sprouted crimson blossoms.

“I see those poinsettias and I feel satisfaction. I just want them all to be perfect,” Frisch said. “I love it when everyone just looks at them in wonderment. It makes me smile.”

Frisch, a lifelong member of St. John the Evangelist Parish, is a fourth-generation owner of the greenhouse, a venerable Antigo business that was started by his great-grandfather in 1914.

He is a graduate of St. John Catholic School. He and his wife, Becky, sent their two children, Andrea and Molly, to its successor: All Saints Catholic School.

“They really hold you accountable,” he said. “They are very good at teaching you how to study along with problem-solving and critical thinking following Christian values.”

He continues to support the school and parish financially, and through his volunteer work — for a time as a coach and as a member of the board of education. 

The Frisch family has been a fixture at the parish’s annual International Fall Food Festival, where, in the past, they have served Scandinavian specialties, such as Swedish meatballs, in honor of his mother, Elvera Carlson Frisch, a native Swede. The festival is always decorated with Frisch Greenhouse mums. He also serves on the Queen of Peace Catholic Cemetery board.

It’s all about sharing those gifts, he said.

“You’ve got to give back some of those gifts you were given,” Frisch explained. “Without a strong faith community, people are just lost.”

And nowhere is faith more prevalent than in a greenhouse.

“If you plant a seed, you have to have faith,” Frisch said. “You can study and know all the scientific jargon in the world, but, in the end, when that seed sprouts and turns into a plant or a flower, you know there is something else there.”

Poinsettias, among the most persnickety of plants, are a prime example. They grow as weeds in Mexico, but can spurn far more pleasant conditions.

Frisch has been refining and nurturing the Yuletide symbol for over four decades. He has helped develop new varieties, and watched as trends changed from reds, pinks and whites to a starburst of colors today. He has kept careful records on temperature, moisture and lighting, and once even convinced the city to remove a newly-installed streetlamp that was shining into the greenhouse at inopportune hours.

At the height of production, Frisch Greenhouses was growing about 5,000 pots of poinsettias, many containing two or three plants.

“That was in our heyday,” Frisch said. “Now we do about 1,000 pots.”

Throughout the year, but perhaps a bit more at Christmas, Frisch is reflective on the gifts he has been given: his business, his family, his faith and his abilities.

“Most of us have unique gifts, but some of us never find them,” he said. To make something of quality, you must put in the effort. If you are lackadaisical about it, that’s the result you will get.”

Frisch is relaxing today, the once-filled greenhouse largely empty, after a whirlwind of deliveries to congregations across the region. Most have been Frisch Greenhouse clients for decades, and all trust that by Christmas Eve, glorious poinsettias will line their altars.

“Usually when I deliver the poinsettias, I am the only one in the church and I definitely get the feeling of being close to the Almighty at that moment,” he said. “I unwrap the plants, set them down, step back, and say a little ‘thank you.’ That is what it is all about.”

Name: Jim Frisch
Age: 66
Parish: St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church, Antigo
Favorite saint: St. James
Words to live by: “It doesn’t matter what you say, it doesn’t matter what you give, it matters what you do. Enjoy, soak it in.”