Obituary: William J. Claussen, 1939-2022 | Obituaries | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Obituary: William J. Claussen, 1939-2022

Claussen's founder created one of the leading and most respected horticultural businesses in New England

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William Claussen - COURTESY
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  • William Claussen
It is with great sadness that the Claussen staff announces the passing of our leader, mentor and the patriarch of the Claussen enterprise: Claussen's Florist, Greenhouse & Perennial Farm.

William J. Claussen died on March 19, 2022, following a short but valiant battle with lung and bone cancer. Willie was born on August 24, 1939, in Sayville, Long Island, the son of Henry and Teresa Claussen. Willie was raised in his parents’ greenhouses, and from an early age he was taught how to grow amazing cut flowers and quality plants, which guided him throughout his career in the greenhouse industry. His pops and mom also instilled a fiery work ethic that he carried his entire life, one that few people could match.

In the early '70s, Willie and his then-wife, Jacqueline, traveled to Vermont to begin a new and independent life, leaving Long Island behind. In 1972, they purchased a small greenhouse operation from Neil and Glenna Carpenter in Colchester, launching the Claussen Greenhouse business. Willie single-handedly took Vermont by storm; his sweat equity and his fierce determination resulted in the introduction of a new market of growing and selling top-quality plants in New England. Never had the Vermont greenhouse industry seen what Willie and his team were able to accomplish over the next 50 years. Hard work and relentless guidance to his staff have resulted in what is one of the leading and most respected horticultural businesses in New England. Willie recognized from the beginning that building a force of dedicated workers would be the key to his success. His main focus was to prove to his pops and mom that he could make it on his own in Vermont, building a greenhouse complex and a business founded on an amazing customer base — a business that continues to excel today in Colchester, Vt.

Not only did this young man come to Vermont to shake up the greenhouse industry, he also came for the Green Mountains. Willie learned as a young boy that wilderness, water and independence were his best friends. Any free time was spent in the woods.

A slingshot, a fishing pole and a BB gun were simply his best buddies growing up. Climbing a tree or building a treehouse out of greenhouse slats allowed him to carefully observe and appreciate wildlife and nature. His Long Island friends Harry, Vinny, Sonny, Allan and many "unsaid" others kept him always living on the edge as a young man, but truly his passion rested with his grasp of a rod, a gun, or even a hammer and a few bent nails, when he wasn't working for his pops!

Fifty-five years ago, Willie’s understanding of the wilderness and desire to play hard when he wasn't working led him to join his great friends Norman and Sil Strung in Bozeman, Mont. Willie’s love for hunting white tail, fishing the “crick” for trout or camping deep in the woods became ingrained in his blood, and for the next five decades Montana became his respite away from work. He enjoyed the West sometimes with good friends but mainly alone, with a backpack, a knife, a bow and arrow, or a rod in his hand. Willie left a legacy in Bozeman’s Cottonwood Canyon.

Along with the forest, mountains and streams, Willie's adventures also led him to the salt waters of the Florida Keys. A self-taught adventurer, Willie was never afraid to take on a challenge. Deep-sea fishing in the Keys may have been difficult, but Willie loved the vastness and unpredictability of open water. His ability to study maps, learn how to navigate the sea and learn exactly where to locate fish came easily after teaching himself all about the sport. For almost three decades, Willie and a select few fishing buddies hit those spots and learned the difference between finesse and just being out on the water for fun. Like with everything else, Willie had a clear and complete understanding of how to pull in a day’s catch, at times at the cost of pissing off a buddy or two because of his determined personality. If you knew Willie, it went without saying that being on a boat in the middle of the ocean was a serious day on the water and nothing else.

Back at home in Vermont, Willie could always count on his dedicated team of longtime employees at Claussen’s. The first employee he hired and worked beside for more than 40 years was Allen Crane, who passed away in 2013. Willie's long-term business partner, Chris Conant, and his wife, Denyse, joined Willie 43 years ago. Chris; his partner, Roberta; and his family Ali, Jessica and Nathan, along with Willie's dedicated "Claussen Family" of workers, will carry on the Claussen name for the next generation with the pride and determination that Willie proudly shared. Willie has a host of employees who appreciate his hard work and determination — the success of his business today. Brenda Wheel, Mark Storch, Brett Wilbur, James MacAuley and Lori King are just a few of the many employees who will continue to carry the torch.

Willie graduated from Sayville High School in Sayville, N.Y. He was best known in high school as a baseball pitcher, throwing many no-hitter games. Following high school, Willie attended the State University of New York at Farmingdale, earning a degree from the Horticultural School. Willie was a proud member of the 101st Airborne Division, a light infantry division of the United States Army specializing in air assault operations. He was truly a proud American.

Willie was predeceased by his pops and mom, Henry and Teresa Claussen. He leaves a sister, Rita Smith, of Sayville, N.Y., and his niece, Kimberly Smith, of Sayville. Willie also leaves his former brother-in-law, Marcel, and his wife, MaryJane Lemay, of Colchester, Vt.

On behalf of Wille, Chris and the Claussen family offer sincere thanks to Dr .Paul Unger, MD, and his amazing staff; the doctors and nurses of the University of Vermont Medical Center; and the incredible nurses and caregivers of the UVM Home Health & Hospice Team. Donations may be made in Willie's memory to our neighbor and wonderful volunteers at the Colchester Food Shelf, Attn. Marcia Devino, P.O. Box 625, Colchester, VT 05446. Donations will also be graciously accepted for the UVM McClure-Miller Respite House, 3113 Roosevelt Hwy., Colchester, VT 05446.

A celebration of life will occur on Saturday, April 2, 2022, at the Lang Farm Barn in Essex, Vt., at 2 p.m., with a reception to follow.

Eric Hanley of Corbin and Palmer Funeral Home in Essex Junction is handling the arrangements. Visit corbinandpalmer.com.

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