Wednesday, August 13, 2003

William G. Thornton, 89, built $10M firm

Started out peddling fruit, ended up running nursery

By Rebecca Goodman
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Mr. Thornton

SYCAMORE TWP. - William G. Thornton borrowed $50 and a car from an uncle and parlayed them into a $10 million nursery business. Along the way, he made lasting contributions to his church and community.

Mr. Thornton, 89, died at Camargo Manor on Thursday following a short illness.

A member of Norwood High School's Class of 1931, Mr. Thornton began peddling fruit soon after graduation.

"He borrowed his uncle's car and $50, went downtown and bought fruits and vegetables, put them in the car and drove around Deer Park and Blue Ash, peddling them door to door," said his daughter, Marlynne Brandt of Milford.

"He did so well he went back the next day and bought some more."

Mr. Thornton eventually made enough to buy his own truck.

Then he took a partner - Dud Zimmer - and opened Zimmer and Thornton Wholesale Fruit and Vegetables on Second Street downtown. It was a fixture there until the 1960s.

In the early '50s, Mr. Thornton purchased a small nursery and greenhouse in Montgomery and renamed it T-K Garden Store.

He left the fruit and vegetable business to focus on selling wholesale nursery products in 1961. He expanded it onto 240 acres in Maineville.

T-K became Thornton Gardens, and landscaping became part of the mix.

"The firm did the landscaping of Fountain Square back in the early '70s and did the big gorilla display at the zoo, among others during that time period," said Mr. Thornton's son Gary, of Anderson Township.

The elder Mr. Thornton was an integral part of daily business operations for more than 50 years, until he retired about nine years ago.

A member of the United Church of Christ in Oakley, Mr. Thornton was moderator of the General Synod of Southwest Ohio.

He also was on the board of directors of Heidelberg College in Tiffin, Ohio, where he donated landscaping services for the library, administration building and a dormitory.

Hilda, his wife of 64 years, died last year.

In addition to his son Gary and daughter Marlynne, survivors include another son, William Thornton of Lebanon; seven grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren.

Visitation is 11 a.m. today, followed by the funeral at noon at United Church of Christ in Oakley.

Interment is at Arlington Memorial Gardens, Springfield Township.

Memorials: United Church of Christ, 4100 Taylor Ave., Cincinnati 45209; or the Alzheimer's Association, 644 Linn St., Suite 1026, Cincinnati 45203.


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