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Kent Willard of Willard's Florist Found Homeless

The former owner of the greatly-missed flower shop has fallen on the hardest of times.

Talking to a homeless man in hospital garb the other day, little did I know he was someone I had done business with years before, as have countless North Hollywood and Valley Village residents.

It was Kent Willard, who owned and operated the beloved Willard’s Florist, which for 12 years did a thriving business at the intersection of Laurel Canyon and Burbank boulevards. The store employed 12 people and provided flowers for countless occasions and romances.

Heading north on Colfax Avenue I passed the Taco Bell at Magnolia Boulevard when I noticed him—a man with a big beard in sky blue hospital clothes and a wool cap. He was quite unsteady on his feet, trying to stand upright but falling back into the bushes, as if he were extremely medicated or drunk. Though many people walking and driving by saw his fall, nobody came to his assistance.

Thinking he may have somehow walked out of a hospital, I parked and went to see if I could help.

When I got to him, he was sitting on the sidewalk, sweating in the hot noonday sun, unable to stand. I helped him to his feet. Over his hospital garb, he was wearing a heavy leather bomber jacket and a wool cap. Asked if he was OK, he answered “no” in a voice both frail and sad.

“Should I call 911—to take you to a hospital?” I asked.

“No,” he said. “The hospital is the last place I want to be. I just got out of the hospital.”

He described a terrible accident in which both of his legs were nearly crushed.

“I was crossing Colfax,” he said, “and got hit by a car. When I was in the hospital they stole everything I had, my money, my clothes, even my shoes. All I got is this jacket.”

He asked if there were any way I could get him a single taco and some water. I did, and he was especially grateful, saying it was unusual for anyone to help him.

Asked if he were homeless, he told me that he owned a nice home for years — and a business—Willard’s Florist at 5600 Laurel Canyon Blvd. in Valley Village.

“You owned Willard’s?” I asked. Even before moving into the neighborhood, I knew of Willard’s just by driving by it for many years.

“We were there for 12 years,” he said. “We did a great business. But then I had problems with my wife; and she accused me of a crime I didn’t commit so she could leave me. I lost her and my daughter and my home and my business.”

He said astronomical legal fees he incurred, along with ever-increasing medical problems and bills, resulted in him becoming homeless. He now spends most of his time in North Hollywood Park at Tujunga Avenue and Magnolia, he said, where he asked me to drive him.

Kent ate his taco and drank his water with shaky hands. He followed them with a sip from a tiny bottle of vodka, which he said was his only pain-reliever. I drove him to the park, where he thanked me and very slowly walked off among the trees.

Willard’s Florist remains one of the most fondly remembered establishments in Valley Village and North Hollywood. Opening in 1993 when Valley Village was still part of North Hollywood, it quickly established itself as a neighborhood flower shop with a difference. That difference was the flair and charm of Kent Willard.

“Every woman who walked in got a carnation presented to her upon arrival,” said Melissa Humpheys, a yoga instructor who was a longtime customer. “Talk about feeling special.... I lived close to the store and had passed by several times thinking it was too big, had to be overpriced, etc. After trying several other florists, who turned out to be too big or too small, definitely overpriced and lacking in any customer service, I found the oasis of Willard’s.”

Like many who remember the shop fondly, she emphasized that the best part about it was the warm spirit of Kent and his staff.

“Kent was an artist,” remembered Else Blangsted, 92, a former movie music editor who went to Willard’s for the roses. “His roses were more beautiful and his prices more reasonable than anywhere in the Valley. And he was a man who loved what he did — he loved his customers, his staff and his flowers.”

“He gave more than he needed to give to his customers,” she said. “Which is the definition of a mensch—a person who gives for the joy of giving.”

Humphreys agreed: “I remember [Kent] standing and pacing around, hands in pockets, ball cap, beard, like a lion watching over his pride. The girls who worked at Willard’s were like flower angels.”

Melissa told her then-boyfriend and now husband that if he were thinking flowers, Willard’s was the place.

“He took the subtle hint, and from then on I was gifted with Willard’s arrangements for any and all occasions, and sometimes just because he is the most romantic man in the world," she said. “I still have some of the unique vases they used for their arrangements. Sometimes the vessels were as gorgeous as the flowers.”

Like many who remembered Willard’s, Melissa stated that the florist still had a place in her heart and her home.

“I am using several of [the Willard’s vases] this weekend to fill with fresh flowers to celebrate our 10th anniversary and vow renewal,” she said. “It’s like Willard’s is a part of our journey, even now. They were there at the start of our relationship and they are still with us in spirit and in vases. Willard’s lives on in our hearts.”

She’s but one of many people who were heartbroken when Willard’s closed, and shocked to learn of Kent’s predicament.  

“There simply was no other florist like Willard's, then or now,” said Melissa’s  husband, the songwriter Mark Humphreys. “The place was downright lush, overflowing with the most beautiful bouquets and plants and stuffed animals — and always decorated for whatever occasion or holiday was approaching.... But the best thing about the place was the staff. Amazing, kind and generous people who remembered my name, remembered that I was married to Melissa and always put together special arrangements just for her.”

Like many, he was disheartened to discover Willard’s was no more.

“I drove there to buy Melissa a bouquet a few years ago only to pull into the parking lot to discover an abandoned space," he said. “I literally cried. I have never, ever found another florist anything like it, anywhere.”

These days former customers of Willard’s can turn to Diana’s Flowers, which is around the corner from the former florist, whose space has been occupied by a series of businesses next door to Papa John’s Pizza.

Though I haven’t seen Kent since first meeting him, people who work near that Taco Bell, which is now , told me they’ve seen him frequently, and often give him bagels and other food items, for which he is genuinely grateful.

“I discovered Kent this morning sleeping outside of my office,” wrote a man in the neighborhood who has known Willard for decades, and who asked not to be identified. “He was in the back where the trash bin is. I hadn’t seen him in about six months. Last time he came asking for money for food. I handed him two nice nectarines. This morning I bought [him] a croissant and went back to work.”

Kent was known to this man not only for his business, but for his baseball prowess.

“Lots of local baseball players know who Kent is,” he continued. “He was a gifted ballplayer. Last time I saw him was about 1979. I was his teammate in over-the-line [softball] and proud to be his teammate. I wish someone could pull him out of this. I think he has a sponsor. I hope someone who reads this has some idea about how to help him.”

That’s the hope of many who were interviewed, that somehow Kent can be helped. He’s long been a successful and admired member of this community, and although successive misfortune has resulted in his current condition, he’s not an old man, and with help could rebound into a productive life again.

He also stands as a stark reminder that the homeless among us, who live and sleep in these streets of our community, are not to be disregarded, and that their tragedy could befall any one of us.  

 

There is more to this story ...

Part Two:

Part Three:

Marcia Parker October 23, 2011 at 03:25 AM
Kent thank you for your kindness. Did he say he would be willing to call and accept help from LAFL?
Craig Clough (Editor) October 23, 2011 at 05:33 PM
Thank you so much for this information. It sounds like there is a good chance we can help get Kent the help he needs. This is very good news.
Katie Willard November 01, 2011 at 05:49 AM
Hi everyone, I appreciate all your kindness. I am actually the daughter of this man. He was a great father who was in my life consistantly for thirteen years. When he lost his shop, everything went downhill and he turned to alcohol. He and i did everything together, he taught me how to surf and how to survive in the water. He has been in this condition for quite sometime. It is nothing new to me. If he does decide to get real help and stick with it, i will be shocked. You would have to be jesus or close to it to get him to stick with someone who helps him. I am 19 years old and again, he was there for 13 years. I see him from time to time in rather...not so good conditions. I see him when i'm not looking for him. All the paramedics know him, it's the usual. I'm not saying i don't have remorce and don't miss him, I'm saying it's almost embedded in my skin how used i am to this. Again, if someone can force him to get help, it would take an act of god because no one, or nothing can ever make him stay. I am a police cadet for North Hollywood Division and i use that as structure and a distraction. I really thank you guys again for your compassion. He is a good soul on a rough road. If he wants help he should take the first step and admit it. Much love to all. -Katie Willard
Katie Willard November 01, 2011 at 05:51 AM
He's my father. Feel free to email me at lapdcadet201194@aim.com
Katie Willard November 01, 2011 at 05:52 AM
Hi everyone, I appreciate all your kindness. I am actually the daughter of this man. He was a great father who was in my life consistantly for thirteen years. When he lost his shop, everything went downhill and he turned to alcohol. He and i did everything together, he taught me how to surf and how to survive in the water. He has been in this condition for quite sometime. It is nothing new to me. If he does decide to get real help and stick with it, i will be shocked. You would have to be jesus or close to it to get him to stick with someone who helps him. I am 19 years old and again, he was there for 13 years. I see him from time to time in rather...not so good conditions. I see him when i'm not looking for him. All the paramedics know him, it's the usual. I'm not saying i don't have remorce and don't miss him, I'm saying it's almost embedded in my skin how used i am to this. Again, if someone can force him to get help, it would take an act of god because no one, or nothing can ever make him stay. I am a police cadet for North Hollywood Division and i use that as structure and a distraction. I really thank you guys again for your compassion. He is a good soul on a rough road. If he wants help he should take the first step and admit it. Much love to all. -Katie Willard. Also, feel free to email me at lapdcadet201194@aim.com Email me if you want my cellphone number. Thanks again and god bless.
Marcia Parker November 01, 2011 at 06:06 AM
Dear Katie, Thanks so much for sharing this. I hope you might be willing to talk more with us at Patch. Yours is an extraordinary story. I manage all of our more than 150 Patch sites in California and your Dad's life story has touched many. Marcia
Mr. B November 07, 2011 at 12:26 AM
Katie, there are (social workers) outreach workers, that can visit with him regularly and build a relationship with him.
Paul Zollo November 07, 2011 at 01:32 AM
I am happy to say that I have found Kent at last. He had pneumonia and was in one hospital, and since moved to another hospital. I was with him today. He's not in great shape, but was very moved by the fact that so many people remembered him, and cared about him. He is struggling with alcoholism - when I asked him if he wanted help, he said that wasn't a question he could answer. I am working on a follow-up story now about him with thanks to all of those who helped with the story.
Lisa Coppala November 07, 2011 at 01:39 AM
Katie's right, Kent has to WANT to change. He has been in and out of rehab several times. His elderly mother help him all she could. She lives in San Francisco with her other son and his wife and they are doing very well. Why his brother doesn't help remains a mystery to me. Kent's problem with alcohol started way before he lost his business. Gambling and alcohol were two contributing factors. I help him by caring for Katie and my sister when he could no longer do it himself. My sister and niece were literally kicked out of their home in 2005 because Kent would "disappear" for days on end and failed to pay the rent on the house he lived in with my sister. My sister had to put what they could in storage and her and Katie drove 3000 miles to my house. They had nothing. They lived with me and my husband and kids for a while. After about 6 months they were able to move back to LA. Kent would live with them on and off. When Kent was sober, he was a remarkable father to Katie and treated my sister better than anyone ever treated her. They were never married, but lived together as husband and wife from the time Katie was conceived until he "disappeared' in 2005. I wish Kent all the best. I hope he gets the help he needs and beats his demons. Tell him I'm rooting for him!!
Jen November 07, 2011 at 04:08 AM
Im sure Kent has a "truthful" story to tell, if he chooses to share, we will all benefit to hear. I hope the "real truth" of Kent's demise will soon be told by a wonderful and caring hollywood writer. God bless. PS, Lisa, your sister is a nutcase (Elvis' lovechild?! LOL, can you say: ("fame/money seeking opportunist?) Are you a "lovechild" of Elvis too!? Please.....
Sandra Samanigo November 07, 2011 at 06:13 AM
Hi my name is Sandra. I know a woman named Silvia who worked for him for many years. She was the head designer for Willard's Flowers. Now, she have her own flower shop named, Josie's Flowers. I know Silvia is still a friend of Kent and she helps him a lot. He stops by to her place frequently. Sometimes when I call her, he's there. I think she has been like an angel for Kent. She have such a good heart and she is so patient with Kent. It's nice to know there are people out there who care about Kent and is willing to help. God bless you all. Hope you guys find a way to help this poor man.
Paul Zollo November 07, 2011 at 06:58 AM
Sandra, I met up with Silvia and interviewed her for the follow-up to this story. You are right - she's been an angel to Kent, a very giving and special person.
Paul Zollo November 07, 2011 at 06:58 AM
Sandra, I met up with Silvia and interviewed her for the follow-up to this story. You are right - she's been an angel to Kent, a very giving and special person.
Lisa Coppala November 07, 2011 at 02:40 PM
Jen, What have I done to you? Your comment was hurtful and snide. No, I'm not anyone's "love child". I know without a doubt who my parents are. They were married for 8 years before I was born. They stayed married for 25 years. They are both alive and well. I have an older sister,an older brother, who died 9 years ago, a younger brother, who died 7 years ago, and another younger brother. We all have the same parents with the exception of Deborah. I have lived in the same city for all of my 48 years. I have been happily married for 20 years and have 2 children.I I love my sister and will be there for her any time she needs me. My husband and I have helped provide for her and her daughter with Kent. I'm been helping Kent by being there for his daughter and taking care of her when he has been unable to do so. I've provided shelter, clothes, food,gas money, entertainment, school supplies, clothing, Christmas presents and birthday presents, and paid thousands of dollars in car repairs on a car that Kent owns. I hope and pray that Kent can get the help he needs and back on his feet. He's a great person and has a sweet spirit! He deserves good things. I love him and wish him well and will continue to car for his daughter, Katie until he is able to do it himself. Blessings, Lisa Coppala
Deb November 07, 2011 at 07:17 PM
Any film made on Kent's words surely would be a work of mindless assumptions like your above statement. The man is certifiable, and the mother with the help of family, has raised a daughter who is a police cadet. Kent was with several ladies after the mother of his child left, taking nothing with her but her child TEN YEARS AGO!!. Silvia was one of these ladies back then and now! Silvia controls his check.
Donna November 08, 2011 at 06:23 AM
Lisa, clearly your sister Deborah doesnt care for her "own" daughter, you have to do so because Deborah is too busy scheming on who she can "rip off" next......
Donna November 08, 2011 at 06:29 AM
To commentor: "Deb" aka (DPB) poser/fake/con artist..... sounds like you are jealous of Sylvia...quit hating on those who are "real" and who have a caring heart "Deb"
Deb November 08, 2011 at 12:17 PM
Just more proof your assumptions are wrong. All I did was point out the truth of the matter. There are people here who want to help Kent. It takes all the facts to help a person, not assumptions.This is no place for your "hate" or "jealousies" of DPB. I have spend 22 yrs, hands on, with a homeless mission. Yes DPB has had help from her family according to her sister, what about Kent's family.? What about all those who have handed him a kind word, a donut, and sent him on his way? Missions can only do so much but at least their hearts are in the right place. It takes alot to help someone if they want help. So how about picking up the cross instead of using it to burn someone at the stake?
Craig Clough (Editor) November 08, 2011 at 01:42 PM
After weeks of searching, Paul found Kent. Here is his story, part one of two - http://patch.com/A-n5rm
Donna November 08, 2011 at 05:09 PM
DEB, your clueless on your comments of Kent's family..they do care, but are also struggling with alcoholism/bipolar disorder...seek the truth my dear while holding your cross!
Donna November 08, 2011 at 05:12 PM
PS, who would be jealous of you DPB? Your mental illness is rampant, seek help and quit using people and seeking monetary gain. Who is your latest victim DPB?
Deb November 08, 2011 at 05:43 PM
RE: Donna, I was asking a question about Kent's family? NOTHING MORE.Please reread before answering with your attacks.
Craig Clough (Editor) November 09, 2011 at 03:07 PM
The third part of Kent's story - http://patch.com/A-n5Lq. There will be more.
Linda Rubin November 12, 2011 at 10:38 PM
This is a heartbreaking story and the helplessness you all feel is disturbing. As Craig has pointed out, there are agencies in our community whose mission is to help people like Kent and which could all use your support in donations and volunteer hours. FYI, First Christian Church of North Hollywood serves lunch once a month in the park where he hangs out to up to 60 more people who are in the same situation. They are each someone's relative. There is plenty you can do to help individually and collectively.
Craig Clough (Editor) November 21, 2011 at 11:51 PM
Here is an update on Kent and his daughter - http://patch.com/A-nSy6
Craig Clough (Editor) December 01, 2011 at 08:09 PM
Here is an update on Kent, some very good news - http://patch.com/A-pgrG
k.m. December 02, 2012 at 04:58 AM
i saw him today at lankershim/victory bus stop he got off at woodman. what a wonderful man i met today. someone please help him.
Liz <3 Gabriel December 14, 2012 at 04:45 AM
I met Kent earlier today, On Victory / Woodman. Out no where I pulled over and offered him lunch. I Did not know anything about him until I got home and came across these articles. He mentioned he needed a blanket. My friend purchased a warm blanket for Kent, I am crossing my fingers I see him tomorrow.
Alejandro December 14, 2012 at 05:20 AM
I just read this article sent to me by my friends Liz and Gabriel it's so sad to see this happend to the people that less deserved it. I hope somebody can really help out with his cause and hope to meet you Kent in person one day. John 3:16
Chris Duenas-Metcalf January 13, 2014 at 01:47 PM
Wow...I can't believe I'm reading this. Kent Willard is homeless....I'm surprised it didn't happen sooner. No disrespect to the family members, but I'm sure they've heard it all before. This was NOT a nice man. He treated his workers and family like garbage. He has had many lawsuits due to his treatment of his workers. If he receives any kind of money, there is a long line of injured workers....tax boards....vendors among others that he screwed over. There are many workers that are still owed paychecks. He donated so much to the No. Hollywood Police (discounted flowers, for the officers, funeral and weddings) that he had a pass on his DUI's. He was escorted home frequently. At one point he paid limousines and taxis to sit in front of his stores because he was so drunk he couldn't function and so when he ran out of booze they could drive him to get more. I worked for Kent for over 10 years and I watched his life spiral out of control for many years....He has stolen for everyone around him including his own mother. She could not retire due to all the bills that he ran up in her name. In my opinion, Kent is riding the Karma train. He will not change ever. How messed up are you to put your $2 million a year store into the hands of a thieving manager (Sarah) who stole enough money to buy a house and start a business in the Midwest (lost the business..house foreclosed) and accuse all of your employees of stealing from you. Kent did not lose his family and business because of a "lawsuit and other" issues. He lost his business because he was a awful person who used up every opportunity, person, family member and the law enforcement to his advantage. If it were any one else, they would have hit rock bottom a lot sooner. I'm sure this post will piss a lot of people off, but the truth is what it is. I know there is a long list of former employees that have the same view as I do. I was not fired, nor have I sued him, and I am one of the few he doesn't owe. Do not give him any money...He will just drink it away. After 10 years of working for him, I can say at one time I admired him for the business he built. It had all the movie stars buying from him....He was the dominant florist in the Valley. Then you look past the shine and you see the real person. What a waste of life...money and a successful business. Please do not glorify Kent. He is where he belongs because of the way he has lived his life and the way he treated everyone around him.

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