H. Webster Hurst Jr., owner and president of the venerable Meyer Seed Co. who was also a World War II veteran, died Sunday of respiratory failure at Anne Arundel Medical Center in Annapolis. The Millersville resident was 95.
“He was a kingpin in the seed industry in Baltimore,” said Jeff Nicoll, who had been a Meyer Seed Co. customer for 60 years, and the former owner of N & N Lawn Service Inc., a business he established in 1958.
“We also purchased mulch and fertilizer but mainly grass seed. My daughter buys her plants from him,” said Mr. Nicoll, a Cockeysville resident. 'He was just a fine gentleman and a true country gentleman."
Jim Schillinger, the fourth-generation owner of Papa John’s Farm in Severn, which he recently sold, was also a longtime customer.
“I’m 60 and my parents did business with him,” said Mr. Schillinger, who now lives in Queen Anne on the Eastern Shore. “He was a very caring guy and when my dad passed, he’d come and say, ‘Jimmy, I have a new product I want you to try.'"
Harry Webster Hurst Jr., the son of Harry W. Hurst Sr., owner of the Meyer Seed Co., and his wife, Lillian Obrecht, a homemaker, was born in Baltimore and raised on 32nd Street.
A 1941 City College graduate, he was drafted into the Army in 1943 where he served in the Pacific Theater as a traffic manager and an M1 rifle marksman. He was discharged in 1945 and his decorations included the Good Conduct Medal, Distinguished Unit Badge, Asiatic Pacific Theater Ribbon, Philippine Liberation Ribbon and World War II Victory Ribbon.
After returning to Baltimore, Mr. Hurst, who always went by H. Webster Hurst, family members said, joined the Meyer Seed Co., which had been founded in 1910 by John F. Meyer on Light Street.
“His father got a controlling interest in the company during the Depression,” said his son, Harry W. Hurst III, a Federal Hill resident, who is secretary of the family-owned business that later moved to Charles and Lombard streets and has been on South Caroline Street in Fells Point since 1969.
“Meyer’s showroom is a no-frills kind of place with three aisles of garden products,” according to a 2006 Sun story. “Bird feeders hang from the ceiling, and the requisite lawn ornaments — mostly plastic ducks and frogs — line the top shelves. Free Farmer’s Almanacs are strewn about the countertop. A wooden wind chime rattles whenever a customer opens the door.”
Behind the counter was a large area where bulk seeds were mixed and sorted and where garden tools and other products were prepared for shipment.
“This is the heart of the business,” Mr. Hurst told The Sun in the 2006 interview.
“He was a tough businessman and he knew how to direct his business,” his son said. “As a father, he was very supportive and came to all of our games. He was never critical, but always very supportive. My parents believed in three things: health, education and faith.”
Said Mr. Schillinger: “Like a lot of older people, he could be a little gruff and all business, but he was very caring. He was a good man. He was old-school. He was a man of his word. If I said, ‘Web, I’m a little short right now,’ he’d carry me. He was always willing to work with you.”
Mr. Hurst’s son said his father “worked his way up the ladder” in learning the seed business.
“He loved every rung of the ladder and climbed up from sales to directing our employees. As a family-owned business, there is a lot of loyalty, and it goes both ways from our company to customers and from our customers to us,” his son said. 'It’s a connected relationship."
As the business changed, Mr. Hurst changed with it.
“As the agricultural and farm business dwindled, he began selling to garden centers, landscape companies and retail,” his son said. “As the business changed, he found new relationships. He loved people and interacting with them.”
“If he knew you, he’d extend credit, and he’d let you go along, because he knew and could trust you,” Mr. Nicoll said. “Money was never a big thing with him. He took everything in stride and had a great life. He was just a wonderful man.”
The Meyer Seed Co., which employs 25, has a customer base that is within a “200-mile radius of Baltimore,” his son said.
Mr. Hurst who had not retired at the time of his death, was still coming into the office several times a week.
“His nurse would drive him up to Baltimore and then he’d grab the mail and come in on his walker,” Mr. Nicoll said.
“The place would brighten up when he came in here,” his son said.
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