Marlene MacQueen has deep family connections and, as the matriarch of MacQueen Apple Orchards, she finds family seeping into every aspect of her life – right down to the roots of each apple tree. For over 65 years, Marlene and her husband, Robert MacQueen, have owned and operated the business after taking it over from Robert’s parents, Martha and Hugh MacQueen.
With a fully functioning store where food, drinks and gift items are sold, as well as all the land from the orchard for people to come pick their own apples, the MacQueens have their hands full. Luckily, with the leadership and love of Marlene and the dedication from her children and grandchildren, together, they happily work hard to keep the business running.
High school and humble beginnings
Marlene met Robert when they were in high school and often spent time on their dates cutting apples and assisting Martha and Hugh with their 25 acres of land. Two years after they graduated, in 1956, Robert and Marlene got married. Shortly after their marriage, Marlene began working in the market and slowly gaining more responsibility within the business. “It’s been many years,” Marlene said. “I’m 87 now and I’m still at it.”
Over time, and with acquisition of surrounding parcels of land, the original 25 acres of orchards grew to 200 acres. Over that same time, Martha fell deeper in love with the business and how it intersected with her family. She was excited and enthusiastic about inviting people to come on the family’s land to be directly involved with the MacQueens.
Opening the market along with the expanding acreage dictated additional tasks and training for the family and their staff. Marlene and other employees took baking classes to learn to make products to meet customer demand for fresh baked goods. Robert decided to forgo college, instead helping his family with the business which made Marlene even more determined to make the MacQueen’s family business a success.
MacQueen’s Apple Orchard became a destination, showcasing apple picking and the market, rather than just a supplier. For the MacQueens, and for Marlene in particular, living across the street from the orchard created a beautiful opportunity to grow the business along with their family. Between spending time in the orchard while developing deep bonds by running the business while staying close to each other, the experience for the McQueen family has been very fulfilling. They have converted Martha and Hugh’s original house on the orchard property into a gift shop, to preserve the founder’s place in the history of the land.
Coping with loss
The MacQueen family was hit with an unexpected loss: the death of the family’s patriarch and Marlene’s husband, Robert in 2013. That sad event forced the family – especially Marlene – to determine how to move forward. “I knew I didn’t want to stay home and do nothing, because it just made you think more,” Marlene explains. “But when we came (together as a family) here at the orchard, the kids just were so great about taking over and all the things that he and I did, they helped out.”
One of Marlene’s daughter’s took over in the office, doing payroll and administrative work. Her other daughter, a schoolteacher, helps out with the “pick your own” apple celebrations on the weekends. Her sons hold executive positions and spearhead the company’s management, while her grandchildren help out in the market and other areas where they can.
“It was just tough at first,” Marlene said. “But we kind of got over it and just knew that he (Robert) was looking down on us. I said (to my children), ‘Your dad’s really got to be proud of you.’ We just decided this is what we want to do and we’re gonna make it work.”
All about apples
Since Robert’s death 10 years ago, the family has steered the company to consistent growth.
Marlene and her family keep the orchard open year round to the public with the market offering fresh produce, baked goods and more. Products offered at the market change each season, with flowers in the spring and pumpkins in the fall.
Marlene is proud of how her business has not only made her family closer, but has connected the MacQueen’s to the overall community. “We’ll go to different places, and somebody will say, ‘Oh, there’s one of the MacQueens there,’” Marlene said. “ We’re so grateful for these customers.”
As for the future of the orchard, Marlene sees no end in sight. “My family is really hard working,” Marlene said, adding “They do everything, and they don’t take much time off either. I have 10 great grandchildren, and I have eight grandchildren. We know that this is going to keep going on because the grandchildren now are into the business and my sons keep planting more trees. I don’t see where that’s going to end.”
Get to know Marlene
What is your favorite kind of apple?
I‘ve got two. One is the golden delicious. I like that apple; you can cook with it, you can eat it, it’s sweet and tart. And I also like the honeycrisp. That’s a great apple.
What kind of music do you listen to?
I listen to country. George Strait.
What’s the last book you read?
I don’t have much time to read books. I’m lucky if I get to read the newspaper.
How do you spend your free time?
We have a pool and I’ll go swimming in the summer. In the winter I‘ll go walking.
Television or movie favorites?
I watch America’s Got Talent. I like that show.
Where do you go to get food or bakery items in the area?
I go to Kroger, Mancy’s Bluewater Grill, and we go to some Mexican restaurants – there’s so many of them.
If you could give your childhood self any piece of advice or encouragement, what would you say?
I would just tell them that they need to be honest all the time. And, especially to elderly people, be helpful and see if you can help them if they need something.