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Remembering Our Founding Mother, Erma Pettis

Erma's friendly smile

Erma’s friendly smile

My mother, Erma Pettis, was born in Dunkirk, NY on a wintery Friday morning the last day of February, 1930. She liked to tell the story of my grandmother telling her that a factory whistle blew just as she was making her way into the world. Maybe this explains why my mother was the hardest working person I have ever known!

Growing up during the Great Depression shaped everything about my mother. Everyone was poor and she learned early on that “If it’s to be it’s up to me!” which became one of her favorite phrases. She firmly believed that everyone is responsible for using his or her natural talents to the fullest.

Blessed with drive and intelligence, my mom landed her first job at the age of 12 working at the M&M Five-and-Dime store in Springville. She continued her job there off and on—even during summers home from college. I feel that experience was the root of her entrepreneurial spirit and leadership style. She learned another one of her favorite phrases from the store’s owners. They would often say, “If there’s time to lean, there’s time to clean!” to their help. Every staffer at Pettis Pools has heard that phrase repeated!

My mom never thought she could go to college; but fortunately one of her high school teachers recognized her potential and encouraged her to go. She told me it was one of the key moments of her life when she realized that she could go to college! What a dream come true! She went to Brockport State, which was predominantly a teacher’s college at the time, and trained to become a teacher. It was also there that she met my father, Larry Pettis.

Erma & Larry Pettis

Erma & Larry Pettis

My parents had an exceptional marriage. They were deeply in love, were each other’s best friends, truly enjoyed one another’s company, and shared the same core values. It was a match made in heaven! They were wed on December 27, 1952.

Fast-forward to 1962 and they now lived in Hilton, NY and have two small children—my brother and sister. Both of my parents were teachers; although since having children my mom had to stop teaching full-time and began working at the Suburban News part-time. Money was tight and my father worked summers painting houses or whatever else he could. Being entrepreneurial at heart, my parents were looking through the “Business Opportunities” section of the newspaper one Sunday morning and saw the ad that would change their lives: “Fox Inground Pool Distributorship Available.”

Destined to be in the Pool Business-Erma and Julie

Destined to be in the Pool Business-Erma and Julie

Back in 1962 the only people who had inground swimming pools were the rich and/or the famous. My parents were in very rural Hilton, NY without many Hollywood types living nearby! They did call and in a short time they had borrowed the money to purchase their very own Fox Pool distributorship. The investment included a 16×32 rectangular pool which my dad installed in our own backyard. He had to learn how to build them and he felt it was better to make a mistake on our pool then on a customer’s! The pools had wooden walls back then and yet that pool lasted in our backyard for 28 years and was the site of many fun-filled times with family and friends.

That first year I believe my dad sold and installed 6 inground pools—what an accomplishment! He was still teaching; but the following summer some of those people called asking where they could buy chlorine. My mom thought, “I can sell them that!”

Our first “retail store” was opened in the summer of 1963 in our garage and continued to operate there until our first building was built in 1968. I was born in 1966 so I have literally been in the pool business my entire life. I saw first-hand the blood, sweat and tears my parents poured into Pettis Pools & Patio. I also know the many sacrifices they made in those early years to keep it going and, many years later, their quiet pride in its success. When they would take me to industry conventions I always felt such pride in how everyone liked my parents and treated them with such respect.

After my father developed Alzheimer’s in 1991 I heard so many times how his word was gold and what a fair and kind man he was. Of course, being his daughter I already knew that! Sadly, my father passed away in December 2003.

When I graduated from college in 1987, I entered the family business full-time. In 1988 we opened our second store in East Rochester and the business continued to grow. My parents were able to take a little step back and let their children and core long-time managers take the reins. My mom always kept a watchful eye on everything however and her guidance was invaluable. She truly was the matriarch of Pettis Pools & Patio.

Mom continued to work in Pettis Pools & Patio almost every day of her life. She wasn’t in the store so much but was usually working behind the scenes, handling most of our print advertising, all the HR stuff, and mainly being our guiding light. Her inspiration and influence has shaped everyone at Pettis Pools & Patio and we will continue to follow her example and make her and my father proud.

Tracey, Mom and Julie

Tracey, Mom and Julie

To us, Pettis Pools & Patio isn’t just a business, it’s our family business made up of blood family and long-time key employees who feel like family. We’re a tight-knit group here at Pettis Pools.

When my mom was diagnosed with cancer this past December, everyone at Pettis Pools & Patio pulled together a little tighter. Sadly, heartbreakingly, my mom passed away May 18, 2012. We did all we could to battle the cancer beast but it was too strong, even for my mother and her amazing spirit. As we mourn her loss, we also want you to know that we are committed to carrying on the Pettis tradition.

We hope you enjoy your experience with us each and every time you come visit, and we sincerely thank you for your support as we celebrate our 50th year in business this year.

Thank you to my mom and dad, Erma & Larry Pettis, for being the incredible people they were. I am truly privileged to be your daughter.

—Julie Pettis

Erma & Teddy

Erma & Teddy