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2018 Cool Store Winner Reveals What It Takes to Win

Julie Ettinger says the key to “cool” is passion.

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Over the years, INSTORE has won 80 international journalism awards for its publication and website. Contact INSTORE's editors at editor@instoremag.com.

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Third-Generation Jeweler Raises 29 Children on Texas Farm

It’s an international adoption story.

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Jay Faske, owner of JH Faske Jewelers in Brenham, TX, is a third-generation jeweler. Jay and Suzanne Faske are the founders of Here I Am Orphan Ministries, a Christian non-profit organization that advocates for orphan care and adoption. They’ve adopted children from India, Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Colombia, Ethiopia and the United States. Sarah, who was adopted from Delhi, India, when she was 2, is a graduate gemologist in the store. Pictured in the back row, from left: Samuel, Emersyn, Joshua, Dakota, Abby, Jacob, Sarah, Naomi, Ethan and Olivia. Middle row: Jonah, Tabitha, Joy, Jay, Suzanne, Elijah, Rachel, Miriam Grace, Jonathan. Front row: Jayson, Lillian, Bethany, Sophia, Gabriella, Caleb, Cherish.

 

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Brenham Jeweler Balances Work With an Extraordinary Homelife.

Jay and Suzanne Faske have 29 children.

When Jay Faske was just 13 he spent a summer working at his family’s jewelry store and to say he wasn’t intrigued is something of an understatement. In fact, he decided that he wanted nothing to do with selling jewelry for the rest of his life, not because of the jewelry industry itself but due more to his reserved personality.

Of course, that decision was eventually overturned. Today Jay owns his own retail jewelry business in Brenham, TX, where his grandfather first set up shop in 1944. Jay’s dad and two uncles purchased the business in the mid ‘70s and later Jay and his dad opened their own store.

It took a while to get there, though.

For three summers after the jewelry store experiment, he worked on a ranch, determined to make that his future. The ranch manager, however, was equally determined to make sure Jay did NOT make it a career, because he felt Jay could do better. “I guessed he was right,” Jay says, when three years later, he had worked his way up to earning $3.25 an hour. He enrolled in an industrial co-op training program in high school and then worked as an apprentice at a local machine shop for a couple of years until an oil industry crash led to massive layoffs.

Enrolled at the local college and living on his own, Jay ventured back to the family jewelry store. This time around, his dad suggested he try the bench instead of the sales floor. He loved it. “I was able to use some of the things I had learned as a machinist and apply them to jewelry,” he says. He transferred to Paris Junior College, now the Jewelry Technology Institute of America, where he learned the basics. He worked for his dad and two uncles for a short time before he and his dad started their own venture, JH Faske Co. as a partnership and in 2005 he began buying his dad out of the business.

“As much as I tried not to enter the jewelry industry, I know it is what I was meant to do, because it provided a way for us to help children, our own and others still in orphanages and foster care,” says Jay, who, with his wife, Suzanne has three biological children and 26 adopted children they’ve raised on a farm. Suzanne also runs a non-profit that the couple started in 2003 as a way to help more children. It’s called Here I Am Orphan Ministries at orphanministries.com

How does this extraordinary family work? Here is a Q&A with some insight into Jay and Suzanne’s lifestyle.

How did you and Suzanne meet?

Suzanne and I met at a local dance that was held on weekends at little dance halls in the area. I met her before going off to school, but never dated. When I came back, I bought a little house in the country, planted a garden and ended up running into Suzanne at another one of those dances. We have been together up to this day.

What motivated you to begin planning for a large family?

Suzanne and I discussed adopting a child before we were even married. We saw a documentary on TV called “The Dying Rooms”, exposing the realities in Chinese orphanages. We also talked about how we wanted to have a large family, four children. We now have 29 children ranging from 6 to 30 years old. The first two adoptions were planned and sought out, but everyone after that really came to us. Several of our children are from disrupted adoptions from other families and many were teens or pre-teens when adopted. It has been hard to see many of the conditions that these children were living in. I have had to ask myself why I was born into the situation that I was, in the country and family that I was born into. These orphanages could have been my home. It is why we couldn’t say no to making a difference to just one more child, even when we knew it would be a struggle. Because of the wide age range of our children, we have never had all the children living at home at one time. We actually had a problem at one point in time when one of the children had a major meltdown because he thought he was being punished because he had a bedroom to himself.

What is the biggest misconception people have about your family?

Many people believe we receive funding from state or federal governments. We believe that those programs were set up to help those who absolutely couldn’t help themselves. In fact, our disabled children have no idea that type of thing is available to them and we intend to keep it that way unless they reach a point that they cannot physically hold a job and I don’t see that happening. We have worked very hard to not do that, so it hurts when people assume we are “making money” from the kids.

What kind of challenges have you faced?

We have had to work through numerous challenges over the years, with logistics of getting that number of children from point A to point B being a major one. Once we had children old enough to drive, that problem was reduced (and created other challenges as well). Having a large family is rewarding as well as challenging. Several of our children have disabilities, but getting help from their siblings has made it possible for them to do things they probably never would have achieved alone. Watching their other brothers and sisters also gave them drive and determination to join in the fun. For example, one of our daughters had polio as a small child, so she came to us in a wheelchair (with quite a bad attitude). She now walks with leg braces and crutches. When you see her pull herself onto her horse with no assistance to prepare for a rodeo competition, it will bring tears to your eyes. She says she may not walk well on her two legs, but when on her horse, she has four good legs.

Have your children been involved in the family jewelry business?

Almost all of our older children have worked in the business at some time in their life, mostly while working their way through the local junior college before moving on. One daughter (the one who we thought would go on to cure cancer) has worked in the store at least part-time since she was 10. She is now 24, graduated with honors from college, has her GG from GIA, runs my CAD program, does most of the watch repair for the store and is great with the customers, so I guess she is planning to stay. I also have a wonderful daughter-in-law who has been in the business for a while and a manager who started with me when she was 18; that was 19 years ago, so we consider her to be family as well.

How have you managed to balance your life and your work?

Living on a farm is what has made it possible for us to have this large of a family and having a large family has made it possible to keep the farm going. The children milk about 35 or 40 Nigerian dwarf goats each morning and evening, giving us all the milk products we need, including lots of flavors of goat cheese. We raise chickens for all our egg needs and also cattle, horses and currently keep 15 hives of bees. It keeps them very busy, but still allows them time on their horses practicing for rodeos, which they love. I really can’t take any credit for managing the farm or schooling for the children. My wife keeps it all running smoothly, or at least running. I used to be very involved when I had time to be able to walk away from the store. Since 2008, it has really been a struggle and our area was hit with other downturns when things were picking up elsewhere across the country. I spend way more time at the business than I should and hope to change that soon.

What is the division of labor at your store?

As a small store, I have to be very hands on. I handle most of the business decisions, but because I lack the time to put toward learning computer programs, I rely on others to pull the information I need so that I can make informed decisions. I have had as many as three bench jewelers at one time in the past, but I am currently doing all the custom and repairs myself (I have been putting in 70-90 hours a week for longer than I would like to admit), so the front end has had to be handed over to my manager. She does my books, payroll, etc. As far as sales, my employees are more capable than I, so I just give them goals to reach and let them go.

Where do you find the energy for your busy life? What keeps you going?

My main source of energy on a daily basis is….um, coffee. Definitely coffee. And I used to not drink the stuff. Now I can’t keep going without it. As far as inspiration goes, who needs more inspiration than 14 hungry kids at home to feed, right? Really, I love what I do! I don’t dread the many hours I spend at the jewelry bench; I enjoy it. I love creating and designing, but it’s really the sense of accomplishment that keeps me going.

What are your goals for the business?

My long-term goals for the business are pretty simple. After struggling through the recession years, I just want to keep the bills paid, see small but steady growth and to be able to pass along a healthy business to any children who are crazy enough to want this thing after watching me through the years. We are grateful to have awesome customers that, because we are in a smaller community, we get to know on a more personal level. As we grow again, we are very mindful to retain that personal touch and culture with our new customers.

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Cullen Wulf Finds Humor in Weird Encounters

View his videos on instoremag.com.

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Liz Saba’s San Diego Jewelry Store Reflects a Rock ‘n’ Roll Vibe

She was profiled in a book about the Southern California punk-rock scene.

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ONLINE EXTRA: Q&A

What do you look for in designers that you represent in your store?

I look for women who creatively tell a story through their unique designs. They evoke feelings when you put on their pieces. I want designers that you won’t see at traditional jewelry stores!

You have pet sea monkeys? Please elaborate!

We wanted pets in the store, but furry animals were not an option. We got a self-enclosed eco system with Sea Monkeys and had a naming contest with our clients. The winning names received a gift card to our store. So now we have Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee and Tommy Ramone!

What’s it like being open some evenings? Is there a different mood or ambience or clientele?

It’s important for us to open evenings because we are surrounded by fabulous restaurants. Couples on dates stop by and discover us. It also opens up shopping hours for our clients that work.

What’s it like working with family?

Working with family makes for a fun camaraderie. Trust me, there are days that you’re not feeling it, but at the end of the day, it’s brought us all closer together.

What do you like best about your occupation?

What I love best is that we make people happy and become part of their story, their lives. It’s meaningful to us. I also love that people that didn’t think they could have a special piece of jewelry accessible to them know they have a place to go. I also love that after 36 years in this industry, I still see designs that are so new and fresh!

What do you like to do when you’re not working?

When am I not working? LOL. I love to go watch live music, shoot pool, and, of course, spend time with my 16-year-old daughter, Presley.

What inspires you about living in San Diego?

I’m so proud to live in America’s Finest City! San Diego is amazing. It’s a big city, but has a small town feel at the same time. It’s so culturally diverse. It’s about community. We have everything we could want, and have you experienced our weather?

Please describe some trademark jewelry pieces you like to wear.

My trademark pieces I always wear are my big inside outside diamond hoops, Debra Navarro studs in my second hole, and my Graziella Gem Swirl Ring. I literally sell it off my finger when people see it. I rock a Baracuda necklace from Jacto and bangles from Melissa Spalten. I just added a new fave: The Boss Ring by Dru. I like being eclectic. Being matchy-matchy bores me.

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