Dahlia Man

Tom Ruple standing behind many dahlias

Tom Rumple

Tom Rumple has always enjoyed watching things grow. As a carpenter and construction foreman in Plant Operations for 21 years, he took satisfaction in coaching the staff members who reported to him to be self-directed and proud of their work. After many years spent learning how to grow and develop his coworkers, he began thinking about how to put some of those skills to work in a new career. Gardening had always been one of his biggest pleasures, so as he approached retirement, he began to give serious consideration to how he might make horticulture a viable, post-retirement career.

Beginning in the late 1980s, Rumple experimented with his first dahlias, tuberous (think of a potato), sometimes outrageously large (some dahlias can be dinner-plate sized), late-summer flowers known for their vivid colors and varied forms. His first tubers were store-bought and failed miserably. Undeterred, he went to a dahlia show, where he met other growers who he says helped to get him excited about the possibilities for growing and learning about dahlias. Now, nearly 20 years into his second career as a market gardener and flower seller at the Ann Arbor Farmers Market, Rumple has become known to fanciers (and he has many) as The Dahlia Man.

Over a ten-year period he progressed from being a novice hobby grower to an accredited senior judge in the American Dahlia Society, a standing which entitles him to judge new plant introductions. And the dahlia flowers he grows on his rural property in Webster Township to sell in season (typically July-October) at the Ann Arbor Farmers Market, as well as to exhibit at regional dahlia shows, are, well, beyond beyond.

When it comes to shows, Tom's dahlias are consistently awarded blue ribbons. He's modest about this success, but his wife Lil pointed out that at in competitive judging at American Dahlia Society shows around the country, Tom's flowers regularly earn first prizes. He's even had the honor of having his dahlias featured as "eye candy" in a national home design magazine.

Tom credits the University for helping him to develop leadership skills that made him more effective as a supervisor and have also served him well in his second career. "The University really cares about developing its staff. I was fortunate to be among the first to participate in a supervisory training program offered through the PlantAcademy that taught me how to be how to be more effective in challenging the people who worked with me to be self-reliant and engaged in their work. The University's approach to leadership and how to do it effectively had a big impact on my thinking. I'm grateful for the opportunities I had to gain exposure to those ideas and feel that those lessons helped in many ways to prepare me for managing a small business."

Look for Tom Rumple on Wednesdays and Saturdays, May through November at the Ann Arbor Farmer's Market.

By Wendy Frisch