There are two florists in West, Texas—Divine Designs, owned by Judy Kudelka and Sharon Jackson, and Donna’s House of Flowers, owned by Donna Snokhous—and between them, they cover all the weddings, funerals, and special occasions in the little town of 2,800. But Snokhous lost both her husband and brother-in-law in the fire caused by the April 17 fertilizer plant explosion, and a day or two afterward she fell and broke her arm. That left Divine Designs alone to face a daunting task: make special, memorable designs for each of the six funerals to be held in West, all to take place in roughly a week’s time.
Judy Kudelka was rushing toward the back door of her shop Friday, trying to get the floral arrangements in order for the remaining four funerals. “Normally it’s just my partner and me,” she said. But in recent days, the owners have enlisted every relative and friend, and a small crew was helping organize the chaos. “We just got a condolence letter from a florist in Boston,” said a temporary volunteer.
“Boston?” Kudelka said, tearing up. She bit her lip as she quickly walked out of the building to a refrigerated 18-wheeler donated by HEB. There, she stored arrangements she’d prepared as well as the many flower donations that had been streaming in from nearby floral distributors. “The flowers came in waves,” she said. “It was a Godsend because Sharon and I didn’t have time to think about it. All we could think about was bringing the families in, talking with them, consoling them, helping them make their florals special. That was my main focal point: the families. And almost everyone we’ve met with has a connection to us.” She pointed to one display and said, “The young lady who ordered this lost her dad. She went to school with my son. She works at MidTex Vet here in town. She has taken care of my dogs.”
While she wanted to go to the funerals, she realized that the closest she would get would be seeing the funeral procession go by. “They know our hearts are with them,” she said.
Right now, the best way she can pay tribute to those lost in the explosion is by working long hours and staying on task. “We try to make each arrangement personal,” she said. In one composition, Kudelka created a base arrangement of sunflowers, twigs, ferns, and tiny purple flowers, then placed some personal items in the arrangement: a black cowboy hat, belt buckle, and rope. In another composition, small daisies, red roses, sunflowers, purple flowers, and greenery were assembled amongst a welder’s helmet, gloves, and barbed wire.
She looked at her watch and noticed it was 1:45. “We’re going to start loading the flowers now and then move on to the next funeral,” she said, her weariness showing. “It’s just been one after another.”