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Flaming's celebrating 50 years

Staff writer

It’s not unusual to see Flaming’s Plumbing, Heating, and Air Conditioning utility trucks out and about in Marion County and a wide area beyond that.

A business that started 50 years ago with two people and a rented truck now employs 10 people and has eight trucks and several supply trailers to meet customers’ needs.

A defining feature of the business from the beginning is that it makes its own duct work from scratch, using a brake machine and shearer to cut and create forms from sheet metal .

Flaming’s began Sept. l, 1973, on a farm near Goessel when Francis Flaming left his job at a farm cooperative in Newton to launch his own business. He had been involved in propane and heating and air conditioning at the co-op.

He and his wife, Eva, had three children ages 10, 8, and 2.

Eva helped her husband from the beginning. They rented their first truck.

After they acquired their own truck, they hired someone to paint the name of the business on the truck .

“Francis always wanted the name on his trucks,” Eva said.

She admitted that Merle, the middle child, had said he was never going to work for his dad. After working in the shop part-time during high school, he joined a silage-harvesting crew that made runs in the fall and spring. One spring, when Merle was 21 years old, his father asked him to join the business.

“I had to make a choice,” he said. “I could keep on doing what I was doing, or I could join Dad. It was one or the other.”

He joined his father.

The Flamings had been urged by lawyer Bob Brookens and accountant Wayne Thies to set up a satellite shop in Marion, which they did in 1992 at 202 E. Main St. They also had a shop in McPherson for five years.

In 1994, they purchased the former Case IH building at 113 S. 2nd St. owned by the late Rusty Longhofer. They have been there ever since.

Merle met Michelle Winter, an elementary school teacher in Marion, and they were married in July of 1995 in Marion’s Central Park.

Tragedy struck in the fall of 2002, when Francis was killed in a truck accident at age 64, leaving Merle in charge of the business. The family was devastated.

The business continues to grow. Merle said the biggest change they’ve seen was the introduction of geothermal systems. Flaming’s still provides high-efficiency gas furnaces, but geothermal has provided a big boost.

“If it wasn’t for geothermal, I would probably be dead in the water,” he said.

With the introduction of cell phones, customers can quickly call for help, and some expect it right away.

“We try to provide service the same day,” Merle said.

He said it’s the people who make the business enjoyable.

“I like to meet new people and get new projects,” he said. “If I can draw it, I can build it.”

His business sometimes serves customers multiple times and over several generations.

“This was always our home base,” Michelle said of Marion.

Their daughter Christin graduated from Marion High School, and Andrew and Adam graduated from McPherson High School.

In 2015, Merle’s mother sold her share of the business to Joel Thomas. He had been working there since he was 16 and a junior in high school, sweeping the shop and building duct work. He soon was called on for help accessing difficult places.

“He could go where other guys couldn’t fit,” Merle said.

Joel graduated from Marion High School in 2001, went to technical school for a year, and began working full-time at Flaming’s. He and his wife, Megan, have two children, Rylee, 13, and Clayton, 10.

“I like the family-type atmosphere, but we still are able to handle most any job,” he said.

Eva continued to work in the business after selling her share. She retired in May 2022. Michelle replaced her as secretary after retiring from her teaching job that same month.

“It’s been good as a family business,” Eva said. “Francis and I always got along. The best part was that the kids could get involved if they wanted.”

Flaming’s is planning a private celebration Sept. 1 with invited guests.

Last modified Aug. 17, 2023

 

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