You’re minutes in, and already the sweat is starting to pour. Yet this really isn’t as hot as it could be, Roxanne Bailey points out, in her jeans and long-sleeved blouse — it’s September, after all. You should see it in the middle of the summer, the production control manager at Flair Molded Plastics Inc. adds, as large fans blow air every which way. She’s taking time out of her busy day to give you a tour of the place she considers a second home, the company that gave her a job when she was just 17. Yet you’ve never been in a plastics factory before. You never knew how loud the factory floor could be, or how the smell of melted plastic hangs in the air. You open your eyes wide and take a long look around while Bailey is in the background, talking to a smiling employee. And now you could be thinking: This is the inside of a part of Evansville I never get to see. Or, even more to the point: I never knew anything about this.
Welcome to Evansville Business magazine’s version of “Hidden America: From Coal Miners to Cowboys, an Extraordinary Exploration of the Unseen People Who Make This Country Work,” a book by Jeanne Marie Laskas. Now a correspondent for GQ, Laskas is an investigative journalist and the director of The Writing Program at the University of Pittsburgh. “I didn’t just want to do a blue collar book,” she says of her collection, which also includes stories about air traffic controllers, a gun store, and the Cincinnati Bengals Ben-Gals cheerleaders. “That wasn’t the point. I was trying to find industries that were essential. Every single one of these, I had no idea. No idea.”
Laskas will be the featured speaker at the Evansville Vanderburgh Public Library’s One Book One Community of Southwestern Indiana presentation at 7:30 p.m. on Oct. 29. The free, grassroots event founded by the library will be at the Victory Theatre. Now in its 12th year, the program seeks to develop a community built around the shared experience of local residents reading and talking about the same book.
“For me doing these stories, it brought me into the community in a way that I never had been before,” Laskas says. “It feels like my life is richer now that I know that this stuff goes on.”
In this issue of Evansville Business magazine, we bring you some of the Tri-State’s own hidden jobs, nine in all. From a river barge employee, to a windshield repairman, to a cafeteria manager, to a factory worker, consider this a window into worlds many local people never get to see.
Ed Roby, Siemers Glass Co. Inc.
Ed Roby wasn’t intending to run the YMCA’s Evansville Half Marathon on no sleep at all. But that’s what happened when his company’s answering service sent him to repair the glass window at a liquor store at 1 a.m. “When I got done, it was in the morning, and it was about time to do the race,” he laughs, adding that he had done that job with another employee. “I had the fastest time I had ever run.”
Not every story the assistant manager at Siemers Glass Co. Inc. tells ends with him reaching a personal best. But there is a lot to tell about his company, which fixes or replaces all automotive glass, some residential and commercial glass, door motors, regulators, and side mirrors and offers 24-hour emergency service. That’s what had Roby, 56, out past his bedtime that night before the race. It’s also the reason he drove out to Burnt Prairie, Ill., on a Sunday afternoon to replace a windshield that was smashed by a turkey.
“That was a unique one,” he chuckles, describing how a semi-tractor trailer struck the bird. “The turkey was in the semi, on the passenger side floor board, so for a time it was the passenger of the truck. The driver stopped the truck, came over to the passenger door, opened the door, and the turkey rushed out.”
Roby, of Evansville, was able to handle that emergency windshield replacement call on his own. But some windshield replacement jobs — like on a motor home — may take four to five men, largely because of the weight and size of the glass. For comparison, he says, the windshield on a Honda Accord weighs 65 to 75 pounds.
“I was told in eighth grade that I would never go to college but I will always work with my hands because I’m good with my hands,” Roby says. “I am always good with people. That’s what I’ve been told by several different customers and that’s something that always makes me feel really good.” — by Victoria Grabner
Gary Wire, Alexander Funeral Homes
“I’ve cried at funerals, even for people I don’t know.”
Don’t be fooled by the dark suit; Gary Wire is a jovial man. But like many of us, he has seen hardship. Almost 20 years as a volunteer firefighter means he knows the rasp of a labored breath. As an EMT, he cared for injured patients, not knowing if they would live or die. These days, the 54-year-old works to comfort those who suffer, but in a different way. As the community outreach director for Alexander Funeral Homes, Wire has spent the past 24 years as part of a team helping the families of the deceased pay respect to their loved ones. And he’s learned that funerals have changed a great deal over that time.
“A lot of the services today are services of celebration,” the West Sider says, referring to the funerals of baby boomers. “Funerals years ago were full of prayers and sermons. Now, it’s more about what the person did, their hobbies. It’s more personalized.”
Wire says it’s always up to the family to decide how to handle a funeral, and there are many options. “Every day, we are trying to meet the needs of the family,” he says. A funeral doesn’t always have to involve a casket. There are traditional services, cremation, ground burials, or entombments in a mausoleum. And the tone of the service depends on the circumstances. “That knot in the throat, that squeaky voice,” he says. “When there is a family and they are grieving over the loss of their 7-year-old child, you can’t help but share in the moment.”
“One cemetery service, no one showed up,” Wire says, his voice growing quieter. “Even the guys who were on lawn mowers stopped what they were doing and came over. He was 70. We know that there must have been someone who smiled because of this gentleman.”
“I don’t take life for granted,” Wire adds. Every day that he leaves his house, he tells his wife he loves her. “God gives us 24 hours in a day. In my 24 hours, part of my day is being here at the funeral home to make that family as comfortable as possible.” — by Victoria Grabner
Lori Steinhart, Breck Logistics
Out on the highway, driving 75 miles per hour, you’ll likely notice the semi-tractor trailer that’s on its way to deliver a load to Nebraska, or St. Louis, or New York. But most people don’t know about people like Lori Steinhart. From her cubicle at Breck Logistics, she’s juggling phone calls, trying to find the most convenient and efficient route for truckers to take when transporting loads across the country.
“It’s kind of a gamble,” the 42-year-old says, her desk filled with transportation orders. Behind her computer screen are maps of the United States that detail its transportation zones. “We try to get carriers to take loads as a backhaul.” This means finding a trucker to carry a load to make a drive back toward his or her home. And that’s easier now. Years ago, she would receive compiled lists of available trucks that usually would be faxed to her office in the mornings. Today, computer and online systems give her live status updates on trucks as they move across the country.
Steinhart receives 15 to 20 requests from shippers looking to move loads every day, and she’s on the phone a lot. She’s trying to meet the needs of each company she works with, but at the core, she’s building relationships. “That’s a big part of the business,” she says. Since she started her job as a transportation broker for Breck Logistics in 1994, Steinhart has worked with more than 3,000 carriers, at least 200 of which are located within 100 miles of Evansville. Many of the people she’s often talking to on the phone are people she considers to be close friends.
“I don’t think people realize how important carriers are to the community,” Steinhart says. “These carriers are what allow plastic from Berry Plastics to be made into our McDonald’s cups or metal from Audubon Metals to be transported to Honda to be used for our vehicles.” — by Theresa Scheller
Zac Savage, Henderson Chevrolet Buick GMC
“Everybody’s idea of a mechanic is of a greasy, dirty guy,” Zac Savage, an automotive service technician at Henderson Chevrolet Buick GMC, says. “I don’t like to get dirty, and people tell me I’m in the wrong field for that.”
He’s not. Progressive, technological troubleshooting has not only reshaped but also revamped the way the modern garage is run today, Savage says.
“You almost have to be an IT guy to work on cars anymore,” he says. “It used to be, you’d just need a hammer and a wrench.”
Savage graduated from F.J. Reitz High School and Ivy Tech Community College. Before he was hired in Henderson, Ky., he worked in Wal-Mart’s tire and lube department, Kelley’s Northside Chevy (now Bennett Motors), and Kenny Kent Chevrolet. He also was asked to return to Ivy Tech as an instructor. That means he’s been teaching automotive students for three or four years
“What I try to get the kids to understand is that you don’t have to get dirty,” Savage says. “You don’t have to just replace parts. It’s a lot more sophisticated than people think it is. There is a very specific strategy-based diagnosis we have to follow.”
He says vehicles that used to have three basic computers within them now have 30 or more, requiring automotive technicians to be some of the most educated individuals on the market.
Savage has more than 650 hours of training and complete mastery of GM and Automotive Service Excellence exams.
“Every day, I’ve got a new challenge,” he says. “Every car that rolls in … I’ve got a new problem to fix.” — by Jon Haslam
Doug Gray, Evansville Marine Service Inc.
If there’s one thing Doug Gray knows very well, it’s the river. He’s been working on it or near it for almost 40 years, now as the vice president of operations for Evansville Marine Service Inc. Owned by Bob and Angie Aldrich, EMS is located right on the Ohio River less than 10 minutes from Downtown Evansville. And if you weren’t looking for it, you likely wouldn’t even know it was there.
This is where Gray has worked for a little over 15 years, after time spent at a towing company in St. Louis and, later, at Owensboro Harbor Service before it was purchased by EMS. The Cloverport, Ky., resident has had multiple jobs in the river towing business, including working as a deckhand, a lead man, a mate, and a pilot. He has a license as a Master of Towing Vessels on the Western Rivers, which he has to renew every five years. Yet he knows what it’s like to carry a flashlight all night as a deckhand working 12-hour shifts for six days straight before having three days off. That’s where “you had one hand to work with and one hand to save yourself with,” he laughs.
EMS offers a variety of services, including fleeting, shipping, cleaning, and repairs, and it services local docks in the area. The harvest months of October through March are the busiest times of the year for EMS, but not every barge tow is the same. “The wind and current make our job a lot harder,” Gray says, especially when the barges are empty. Some covered barges are also hard for the pilots to see over.
GPS navigation is key on the river, but with just two crewmembers on harbor boats, so is communication. “Part of the deckhand’s duty is to talk to the pilot and give him distances, like you are 100 feet from where we are going, or 10 feet off the side of the barge,” Gray says. “When he’s out on the head of the tow, the deckhand is the pilot’s eyes and ears.”
He knows the bend in the Ohio River is the most popular place in Evansville for pleasure boating. Yet he’s not sure many people understand that bigger boats like barges can’t immediately stop. “When you are pushing 25,000 tons of cargo on the Ohio River, and you let off the throttle, it can take up to a mile to stop,” he says. “Boaters should stay as far away from a barge as possible.” — by Victoria Grabner
Donna McConnell, German American Bank
Donna McConnell is the administrative assistant to German American Bancorp. South Region President John Lamb. That’s her official title, at least, and it means she processes invoices for payment; handles purchasing of all office supplies and equipment; is the liaison for property management; and coordinates events for summer outings, holiday open houses, and lunches and meetings throughout the year.
Yet when strangers wander into the large bank headquarters on Vogel Road and are welcomed by a large corner desk on the left, McConnell’s is the first warm smile they see. She’s often the point of information for the other businesses that are located within the German American Bank building, too. “It just brings joy to my day and hopefully any assistance I can provide makes their day a little easier,” she says.
McConnell is comfortable in a bank environment. She worked as the secretary to the president of Security Bank and Trust Co. in Mount Carmel, Ill., before becoming a commercial lending secretary at Citizens Bank (now Fifth Third Bank) in Evansville for eight years. After six years in the Clearwater, Fla., area, McConnell returned to Evansville in October 2000 to work as an executive assistant for the organizing office of The Bank of Evansville, which opened for business on July 2001. She continued to serve as executive assistant until the Bank of Evansville merged into German American on Jan. 1, 2011. At that time, McConnell became an administrative assistant.
While the bank transition was a challenge, she says, the staff worked cohesively and achieved what needed to be done. “It’s a great group of people to work with and for,” she says.“The fact that Bank of Evansville was founded by a group of community leaders is the neatest part.” Today, German American is a $2 billion holding company that serves 12 counties in Southern Indiana.
And how is it to work with Lamb, who oversees Vanderburgh and Warrick counties? For one thing, he’s always accessible. “While John maintains a sense of urgency, he exhibits a calm style of leadership, which is reflected in those working close with him,” McConnell adds. — by Theresa Scheller
Debbie Lehman, Cedar Hall Community School
Debbie Lehman is used to rules. Working in a kitchen surrounded by food, where measurements mean everything, you’d have to be. Yet some rules are tougher than others. As the cafeteria manager at Cedar Hall Community School, she’s not just trying to make a tasty breakfast and lunch. She’s trying to make a tasty breakfast and lunch that also meets a complicated set of federal meal pattern and nutritional requirements. She’s preparing those meals for a customer base — students — whose numbers can shift by several dozens every day. She also has to find a way to make the small amounts of food the students didn’t eat on one day something they will definitely eat the very next.
And then there’s her other job, the one that makes her part artist and part food educator. “When you first take something new out, they kind of look at it funny,” Lehman says. “So I’ll take an apple and an orange and cut them in half — one serving has half an apple and half an orange — and they just love that. I put carrots and broccoli and maybe a cucumber slice on it, or a cherry tomato. Sometimes I think my little kids, they will pick it up because it looks nice.”
Getting students interested in eating healthy is a big part of her job. But Lehman, 45, knows not everyone comprehends or agrees with the federal requirements. “I have this menu, and this is what I have to go by,” she says. Schools are required to meet federal requirements in order to be reimbursed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Still, Lehman likes her job. She likes working with children. And she likes that, when her own three children were growing up, she was able to spend time with them on spring and summer breaks. “It’s a really good family job,” Lehman says, of the work schedule that is built around the school year. “And we even get sick days and personal days. If your kid was home sick, you got to stay home and be with your sick child.” — Victoria Grabner
Robert Shetler, Shetler Moving Co.
It doesn’t matter if it’s 102 degrees in August or pouring rain in April. The weather is just something the movers at Shetler Moving Co. have to deal with. And some days are more intense than others, says Kris Conner, moving consultant. “Reitz Hill is a great example,” she says. “Some of the houses in that area have many steep steps, so for a mover, it is a trip up and down for each piece of furniture or stack of boxes.”
Then there are the driveways and alleyways that can’t accommodate a large moving van. “This creates long carries, or sometimes we have to do shuttles, which is loading items on a small truck and taking the small truck to the moving van, off-loading the smaller one and reloading onto the moving van,” Conner adds.
Each move is different, but in each case, the movers are more than just muscle men. They must assess inventory and decide, as they are carrying items into the van, where the item will remain secure and how it will best fit into the vehicle. For more fragile items, like glass tabletops, they have to take the time to wrap the glass in blankets so the glass isn’t damaged during the move. Communication is key. When carrying a heavy couch through a narrow doorway, the mover who is walking backwards must listen closely to the mover who is facing forwards, just so nothing is damaged in the process.
“Everybody — and I don’t care who it is — everybody has at least one or two items that are very important to them,” says Robert Shetler, the company’s owner. “It might be grandpa’s rocking chair, a cookie jar, or whatever. It could be anything.”
“There will always be people involved in handling of household goods,” he adds. “It’s always going to be a hands-on business.” — by Jon Haslam
Roxanne Bailey, Flair Molded Plastics Inc.
Roxanne Bailey has three priorities in life: God, family, and work. She’s found each at Flair Molded Plastics Inc. “They care about people, and that’s what’s kept me here,” the 57-year-old says. This month, the mother of three will celebrate 40 years at the injection molding company that, in its early years, molded office product components for IBM typewriters. These days, the company on Lynch Road produces items like balance rings for washing machines and shelves for refrigeration products.
Bailey, who lives in Wadesville, Ind., started working at Flair as a young mother doing office work in 1973, when she was 17, before she became an operator on the factory floor at age 18. One year later, she was promoted to finishing supervisor. Since that time, she’s been production control scheduler and plant manager. She has done pretty much every job outside of maintenance and tooling.
“You have to be detail-oriented,” she says, of the 60 full-time and 20 part-time Flair employees who work three, eight-hour shifts. Those employees spend a lot of time on their feet, monitoring presses, driving forklifts, repairing and maintaining presses and other tools, and more.
“I’ve been able to grow from where I was to where I am now,” Bailey says. “They’ve always been there for me when I had to focus on family. Our environment has been created because of the people we know we have. It’s much more than plastics. There are people that you meet here, they are feeling like they are lost in life. We give them confidence and help them see in themselves. A lot of it has been encouraged from managing owners Jim Peters and Bert Brougham both.” — by Victoria Grabner