This story is part of a series following University of Findlay alumni who have gone on to have meaningful lives and productive careers right here in the local Findlay community. Their stories provide a glimpse of the difference UF students and graduates make in the lives and businesses of our immediate area, and of the impact a UF education can have right here at home.
Christmas is nearly here, and, as a result, Christmas trees can be found in many a cheerful window wherever one might look. And, if folks in the local area visited Kaleidoscope Farms for their Christmas tree this year, they very likely ran across University of Findlay alumnus Aaron Reese ’02 M 10 getting trees ready for display. Reese, who, along with his family, owns the Christmas tree farm in Mt. Cory Ohio, knows all too well the meaning and importance of a good work ethic, a good education, and a good Christmas tree.
Reese’s work philosophy was instilled in him by his parents, who were both teachers. In fact, according to him, Reese’s extended family are all hard workers, aided by education and agriculture. “My father was an ag/entrepreneurial business teacher and my mother was a home economics teacher,” he said. “Pretty much everyone in my family growing up was an employee of a school or a farmer. With that being said, we were taught to learn and work; two skills that shaped my life dramatically.”
When he came to UF’s campus in the late 90s as a freshman Oiler, that “learn and work” ideal came in handy for Reese. After all, the core of college is both learning and working, and UF is no different. As a commuter, he said, The Cave and the rest of the Alumni Memorial Union were essential to his time spent on campus. He was there when the attacks of 9/11/01 transpired, he said, and he spent a lot of formidable time, as a result, trying to make sense of things, conversing with others in real-time about the events of that day. It was important to have like-minded individuals around to help. “The ability to meet and study with people that I have still maintained contact with today has a lot to do with the culture at UF,” Reese said. “Even though there were plenty of opportunities to be a “college kid,” I felt quite confident in the aspect of being a commuter as well.” He worked hard right from the start, not completely certain of what he wanted to become, but grateful for the road that got him to UF’s campus and to the people he was meeting. The dedication and discipline he used in the classroom and, when he settled on an education major, as a student observer and student teacher, came from a unique perspective belonging to his father when raising Reese and his brothers.
To show his sons the value of a solid set of work ethics, Reese’s father started the Christmas tree farm. He thought that creating a non-traditional farm would be an effective way to teach his four sons the value of hard work and character-building. So, for over 35 years, the family has provided an opportunity for others to have a farm experience where they can have, as Reese said, “a little slice of country and Christmas spirit,” regardless of their background and beliefs. Over the years, the farm has boasted live reindeer, a live animal nativity, scavenger hunts, horse and wagon rides, a gift shop and many other activities to promote agri-business and family traditions. “I was five years old when we planted our first crop of trees,” Reese said. “Starting out as a small child working on the farm to learning the basics of running a business has been a unique experience, and also challenging at times. Growing up, I always wanted to do other things and, at times, resented the fact that it was so much work. Now it’s easy to see that my life would have turned out way different if I hadn’t been taught those values.”
Reese’s dad’s plan worked well, as his son spent his time at UF wisely, applying the ethics he’d been brought up with to his classes and the work that came from them. In fact, he said, UF didn’t seem too far removed from the surroundings of his youth. “Findlay just felt like the right fit for me, and I felt at home,” he said. “Coming from a very small rural school, Findlay allowed me to have a smaller school feel that I was comfortable with, but also offered many opportunities regardless of one’s interests.” Reese went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in middle childhood education, and, later, a masters of education, with human resource emphasis, all the while spending time at the tree farm, focusing on his family’s passion.
Now 41 and happily married for 18 years with three kids of his own, Reese, whose wife Jennifer ’04 and brother Jay ‘11 also graduated from UF, moved on from teaching after 11 years in the education field, but said he “uses skills learned at UF to not only help run the family business but also pursue a career in direct sales.” He’s been at his current position at Partitions Plus, a packaging supply store here in Hancock County, for six years as a sales representative, he said, but people can rest assured that he keeps plenty of hours at Kaleidoscope this time of year. The ability to give equal time to his endeavors, one of those skills learned as a working student at UF, is key to each of his interests. “Balancing the farm and work is a challenge in itself, but I also coach high school basketball, youth basketball, and soccer, and am on multiple community and local committees,” Reese explained.
And the tradition and passion for the holidays has been passed on to his own kids, all three of them working on the farm now, too. Reese celebrates the accomplishments he’s reached along with his family, and said that, now more than ever, he thinks it is crucial for kids to learn the value of friends and family, of a job well done, of not being afraid of working too hard, and of not taking themselves too seriously. “During my time at Findlay I made lifelong friends and had a wide array of great experiences. I also made great connections with staff members and professors that I utilized even years after I graduated,” Reese said. “God, my family, the farm, and University of Findlay all have played a part in the person I have become today, and I am grateful for those experiences that have shaped my life.”