Chrysanthemum days: In the world of homecoming mums, Joyce Florist was king

Homecoming is a tradition that stretches back to Texas college football in the early 1900s.

The iconic homecoming mums came around many decades later, probably in the 1940s. It was a gift of a fresh chrysanthemum corsage given by a boy to his homecoming date. The origin of the tradition is unclear, but by the 1950s, homecoming mums were embedded in Texas culture.

A September 1953 story in the Dallas Morning News told ladies how to “take the lovely flower with you all day in the form of a corsage,” along with a tutorial. “The ribbon in school or team colors will add school spirit to the homecoming football game,” the story advised.

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In Oak Cliff, from the 1950s through the 1970s, there was one florist known for making festive homecoming mums.

Joyce Florist has been operating on South Hampton for about 70 years. The business started out in Elmwood as the Cart Shop and moved to its current location, a former Dairy Mart, in the late 1950s.

The shop changed names after Bob Joyce bought it in the ’60s.

Sunset High School alumnus Richard Malmos worked as a delivery driver for Joyce from 1974-75 (he remembers celebrating after asking for and receiving a raise to $2.50 an hour).

“Bob Joyce was like a character out of a movie,” Malmos says. “He was an old-school Texan.”

He remembers Joyce as standing about 6-foot-4 and some 300 pounds, a chain smoker with a heavy Texas accent. Joyce drove a big pick-up truck and bought a brand-new one every few years, Malmos says.

“He was a hardcore guy to work for because he expected a lot out of everyone,” Malmos says. “But it was a fun job. How bad could it be? You’re delivering flowers to people.”

Malmos, now a voice actor in Los Angeles, had a signature line when recipients answered the door: “Delivery from Joyce Florist.”

Vivian Yates Skinner, a Carter High School alumna, remembers how thrilling it was to receive a box from Joyce on homecoming.

“It was delivered in a white cardboard box with a silver Joyce label,” she recalls.

Nowadays, mums can be big enough to cover the entire front of a person’s body. They can cost as much as $300 each and sometimes come with three huge silk flowers, teddy bears, candy, bells, whistles and even lights.

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But in the ’60s, those homecoming sweethearts lucky enough to receive a mum from Joyce would find in the box a fresh chrysanthemum, “which smelled heavenly,” Skinner says. It would have a few long ribbons with your name written with glue and glitter, plus a little cowbell or two, Skinner says.

Teresa Chamberlain-Branch, a graduate of Carter High School, remembers wearing her mum to church on the Sunday after homecoming. Girls would put masking tape on their mums’ cowbells so they wouldn’t make noise in church, “and we left a trail of glitter behind us,” she says.

Chamberlain-Branch went to work for Joyce for a few years in the late ’70s. At that time, the florist had a team of professional floral designers, so at first, they mostly gave her menial tasks, such as cleaning floors or dethorning roses.

But when homecoming season came around, none of the floral designers liked making mums, so they let her do as many as she wanted. And she found she liked it.

“It was a lot of glue and a lot of glitter,” she says. “I’ve just always thought it was fun.”

After that, they let her work on floral arrangements and she went on to make a career of it, even owning a small floral shop in Central Texas for a few years. Since her days at Joyce, she’s always made mums as a florist as well as for her own sons’ homecoming dates. They still used fresh chrysanthemums in the ’70s, she says, and she thinks silk flowers became the norm in the ’80s.

A former employee of Joyce, Gloria Garcia, bought the shop in 1997 with her daughter Jolisa Castillo, and even though mums have become something of a cottage industry in Texas, homecoming is still a busy time for Joyce.

Garcia’s granddaughter Alyssa Gray now manages the shop and makes about 30-45 mums every fall, she says.

Gray’s own homecoming mum is in the shop’s display.

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There’s no more messy glitter; they now use decals to spell the wearer’s name on the ribbons. But there are other hazards.

“I always get so many burns from the hot glue,” Gray says.

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