Lion Floyd Poruban proves life flourishes in all kinds of conditions


“It’s easy,” Floyd Poruban said to his doubting professor. “One has a sticky flower and one has a dry flower.”

A horticulture student at The Ohio State University (OSU), Poruban had been assigned to distinguish between an American cranberry shrub and the European variety — two plants so similar that even his sighted colleagues couldn’t see the difference.

But he had done it easily, and the professor was insinuating that his blind student had cheated. He had not. Poruban, born with just 10 percent of his vision, had studied the plants and seen the difference. He had felt it with his fingers.

Almost 60 years later, his discovery about cranberry shrubs is in the plant identification guides and the 81-year-old accomplished plant pathologist remembers the moment in class clearly.


“Frustration,” he says, “frustration has been a motivator.” He’s not talking about the frustration of facing tasks that would be easier done with sight, but the bigger frustration of facing people like the professor who assume that if you can’t see, well then you just can’t.

“Prejudice, discrimination, things you don’t want to get angry about, but you just want to get ahead of, motivates you to move on,” says Poruban. “I’ve had this kind of motivation all my life.”



Floyd Poruban was 4 when his parents were told that he had just 10 percent of his vision.

“Move to the country where your son can get sunshine, exercise, and fresh air,” is all the doctors at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio could offer. So, when Floyd was 7 his parents followed doctor’s orders and moved from the steel mill and factories of Lorain, Ohio, 15 miles east to the robust agricultural area of Avon, near Lake Erie.

No doctor could predict what was to follow. No one would expect in the early 1940s, when education and career opportunities for the blind were limited, if in existence at all, that little Floyd Poruban would grow to be called a pioneer.


"Blindness is“ not an excuse."

In 1957, he became the first blind person admitted to OSU's science program, and in ’61 he graduated with a degree in horticulture. He followed with a master’s degree in plant pathology in 1964.

In March, Poruban, a 52-year member of the Avon Lions Club who spent nearly 40 years as Sight Chairman, received the 2019 Distinguished Alumni Award from OSU's College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.

Today, the Porubans, Floyd and his son, Rich, also an Ohio horticulture alum, specialize in field-grown woody plants and shrubs at Poruban Nursery, in Avon, Ohio. They work from the home Floyd Poruban built for himself and his wife, Ann, on land he bought in 1969 to expand the swiftly growing nursery that he started after college.

He received the first horticulture enterprise loan ever given to a blind person in the U.S. for that acreage, and it took a significant fight to get it.

“No one believed a blind man could repay them,” he says. “There’s an inherent distrust for the handicapped. I ran into it in college and I ran into it when I was building my house.”



Despite the doubters, Poruban has persisted, every day heeding the same advice he has passed on to his son: “Get out of bed. Don’t ruminate over it. Just keep moving forward and have faith.”

When his family first moved to Avon, the 7-year-old had to catch a bus along their road, travel two miles and step off, then cross a busy state road to board a second bus that took him to “Sight Saving Class” back in Lorain.

“I don’t know,” he says when asked how a blind youngster managed to cross a busy road every day. “I am a person with so much gratitude. There doesn’t seem to be a day where I was alone. There was always someone there with a hand to help me.

“That’s why I joined the Lions. I said, ‘I gotta return this.’”

When it came time for high school, Poruban chose to be mainstreamed into the Avon High School instead of going to a school for the blind.

“The teachers were in a flux,” he remembers.

“I don’t know what to do with him,” his teacher said.

Because Poruban had been taught to type, his teacher sent him to the only place in the school where there was an unused typewriter, and that was the football coach’s office downstairs. He certainly wouldn’t be in anybody’s way and he could type a few stories.

Poruban typed his stories as directed, but the coach sought to rescue the teen from his boredom and put him to work as manager for the varsity football team. He earned a letter. Across the hall, another coach ran the industrial arts department. He watched carefully as Poruban, already skilled with his hands, surprised everyone by building a fine walnut sewing cabinet and not cutting his finger off.

Because Poruban graduated as one of the school’s first National Honor Society members, Rehabilitative Services in Ohio said he could go to college with the caveat that he maintain a 3.0 average to be re-evaluated each quarter.

He chose Ohio State.

When the horticulture students were required to climb a tree with a rope and a saddle, he did. When he was offered a job in a giant greenhouse folding baskets for shipping tomatoes, he folded 1,000 a week.

When a professor repeatedly dismissed him, saying “A blind person can’t do credible research,” Poruban proved him wrong. In the university’s first plant disease clinic, he researched crown gall, a bacterial disease, and his work resulted in the discovery of plasmids, still a widely used tool in cancer research.

Poruban never learned braille because his fingers were too callused from working with dirt. Instead, professors worked carefully with him, he poured over books with a magnifying glass, and classmates would ask to read to him, knowing he could explain what they’d read. Now he uses the Jaws screen readers program and Kurzweil’s text-to-speech support.


By the time he graduated with his master's degree, Poruban had become so skilled at propagating plants that his college friends asked him to start some for their new businesses. His own business then grew so quickly that the small hobby greenhouse his father built for him in his youth was no longer enough.

He and Ann, a nurse he met at a school dance, applied for a USDA loan, and together they built their house and greenhouse. Although she was pregnant with Rich at the time, Ann had to stand in a ditch and hold the level while he built the foundation, says Poruban, who laughs with the memories.

“But he pounded the nails. He did the wiring and the plumbing,” says Rich Poruban. “When I was growing up and I would complain about something being difficult, Dad would say, ‘Close your eyes and try to do it.’”

“A lot of gut, a lot of determination, and a lot of success,” says
Rich Poruban of his father’s life.

And a little luck, his Dad admits. Serendipity has also been a lifelong motivator. The Porubans had a field of rhododendrons thought to be ruined by flooding, but when they began to clean up the rotted plants, they discovered that fungi had emerged in the field. Determination and time in their makeshift lab led father and son to a new discovery in their part of the U.S. It has allowed them to cut back on fertilizer by 90 percent and to switch from a heavily cultivated nursery to a more natural way of growing.

Poruban, who can see only the sun when it shines on his window, says, “Research never stops in our minds. And blindness is never an excuse.”

He is a man of gratitude and faith, his favorite hymn, “He Leadeth Me! O Blessed Thought,” an expression of his belief that “God leads me every day. He has his hand on my back and helps me all the way.”

“His is a story that should be told over and over,” says Rich Poruban. “When people say how hard life is, I say, ‘You have no idea.’”