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40 Year Spotlight. Ask Laura!


By Mike Evans

A couple days ago, our General Manager, Laura Camp, mentioned a problem to me, only in passing, and certainly not expecting me to provide a solution. Something about our internet connection, spotty, coming and going, weak in places it should have been strong, typical issue. I told her she should probably just “Ask Laura.”

In the early years at TOLN, Jeff Bohn and I were working on the things we loved; collecting seeds and cuttings of native plants, propagating them for sale in containers, and planting an extensive natural garden throughout the nursery grounds. We kept the books in pee-chee folders, accordion files, and cardboard boxes. 

We were building a team of nursery employees, but no one was spending any time at a desk. We hired our first office person, Lisa Iwata, 38 years ago, followed by a particular Kathy, and finally our current office manager, Pat Hornig, who has been with us for 32 years, doing a great job. They each set their minds to business… all the pesky details… banking, paying bills, payroll, insurance, rent, and suchlike… even answering the phone. We glanced at the basic numbers now and then, depending entirely on an outside accountancy to produce statements and summaries, profit & loss, balance sheets, and tax reports for banks and Uncle Sam. We mainly just forged ahead with our passion for growing lots of natives.

Even now, the same accountant, Scott Whitmore does our taxes. But 25 years ago he had in his employ a certain Laura Camp, an accomplished CPA and expert birder who was happy to maintain the TOLN account for him. The year was 1996 and it soon became apparent that Laura’s place on the nursery team merited her own desk in our office. She first worked as a consultant, later as a part time employee, and not long after, moved to Tree of Life full time. Laura has been keeping us on the straight and narrow for 25 years, all the while maintaining an extensive bird list right outside her window. We were admittedly late in giving her the title General Manager, because she willingly assumed those responsibilities early on, without the attending recognition and promotion. 

Over many years, Laura has put in countless hours with personal involvement in the California Native Plant Society. She served on committees and boards, and became President of the Orange County Chapter. A recognized leader, she was later elected to serve as CNPS Statewide President in 2014-2015. Employing her keen organizational skills and passion for native plants she made many positive impacts in that Society and we are all very proud of her. 

Laura Camp’s stakeholder attitude epitomises successful business management. She is always pressing on to push TOLN up to the next level, at the same time solving any real problems that occur on our actual level.

Here’s a synopsis of stuff we ask Laura about:

Invoicing system

Inventory programs

Accounting systems

Quotes, sales, and delivery systems

New POS system for Casa La Paz 

Phone system

Internet internet internet

Everything about birds 

Managing wholesale and retail managers

Working directly with Office Manager, Pat Hornig 

Acting as mediator between Mike & Jeff sometimes 

Knowing where things are in storage

Always having a good substitute plant in mind 

Photo organization

Multitasking, with many interruptions to answer questions 

Investigating new hardware and software

Procuring the above

Learning how to use and teaching others the above, above

Software updates and glitches

Calming a sometimes chaotic office

Customer relations

Accounts payable

Accounts receivable

Taxes, pension, profit sharing

Covid protocols and financial implications

Human resources

Interviewing and hiring new people

Payroll payroll payroll

Tax reporting aplenty

Dealing with outside consultants

Notifying us when when she sees evidence of mice in the office

Tolerating dead mice in mouse traps the following day

Scheduling work in all departments

Conducting staff meetings

Encouraging everyone

Insisting on excellence in all things

I’m sure I missed some things. I could ask Laura but we want this essay to be a surprise.

Laura Camp has been a Tree of Lifer for 25 years and has contributed immeasurably to the success of the company. Additionally, the handiwork of her husband Bob, (a really good finish-carpenter and bench builder), can be seen in our office, and also in the sales yard and interior of Casa La Paz. He and Laura are excellent hikers and spend a lot of time on the trails next door at Caspers Park. Dakota the Nursery Dog always likes it when Bob stops by.

Chances are if you ask someone in our office a question they can’t answer, they’ll get back to you soon enough, but first they may have to ask Laura. 

And oh yeah, if you’re looking to ID a bird (even if only by call or song)… ask Laura.

Laura Camp at Tree of Life Nursery