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Elder Rubber Company will celebrate its 50th anniversary this year, and it’s been through some major changes in those years.

The company was founded by Ray Elder who later donated it to a charity.

In September 1987, Shirley Lewallyn’s kids were in school all day, so she decided to find a job. She checked the classifieds for entry-level jobs. “I knew I had to start at the very rock bottom.” She found an ad that listed a company name and location, but no phone number. “I think the reason I got the job was because I could find it,” she said.

She was hired as a general office worker, but that started to change when James Robert Riggs bought the company from the charity in early 1988. Rather than take over someone else’s office space, he planted his new desk right behind Shirley’s. “He picked up on some abilities I had that I didn’t know I had,” she said.

When they moved out of that office, Shirley said that you could see a circle on the floor at her desk, because she was constantly turning around to hand Riggs something he had asked her for. “I’m in the position I’m in because of him,” she said. One of her favorite parts of her job is that, “I get to work with numbers all day long.”

One of the things Shirley was good at was analyzing sales and purchasing reports, and eventually Shirley worked her way up from general office work to becoming the company’s general manager. She said, “I look back at my life and think, ‘How did I get here?’

“We weren’t the OEM,” Shirley said of the parts that the company made, “but the quality was good. As a manufacturer, though, our product line was limited.”

Under Riggs’ control, the company shifted from just being a manufacturer to also purchasing products from large suppliers. “It wasn’t practical for them to sell to smaller customers,” Shirley said, and Elder Rubber was already selling to those small customers.

The company started to grow and acquired another location in 1990. Now the company has about 30 employees between 2 locations.

“All of the parts are 100 percent inspected,” she said, and the company recently received its ISO certification, “which we were very proud to accomplish.” She said that the company works hard at maintaining good customer service, and that they still have many customers who were with the company when it was founded.

With the automotive repair business slowing down, the company started looking at other industries. “We’ve got to be competitive,” Shirley said, and soon they began manufacturing a product they call “the star” which is used by recycling companies in equipment that sorts recyclables. “I’ve never seen it in use,” Shirley said, but she hopes to see one in action before she retires – a day which is coming soon.

Shirley has been with the company for 27 years, but she said that there are others who have been there even longer. “It’s a good little company,” she said, and turnover is very low. Many employees have been with the company for more than 10 years, and even the short-timers have been with the company for 3 or more years.

“The people we’ve got are some of the sweetest people,” Shirley said. “They work hard and they’re loyal to the company.” She said that once she retires “it will be hard not to see these people every day.”

While Riggs is still the owner, he has retired from his position. “But I still send him analytics,” Shirley said, so he can keep up with what’s going on in the company.

Going forward, Shirley said that she expects that the company will “reach out to get more recycling business,” although it will no doubt continue supplying parts to the automotive industry as well. But, she said, the automotive business is still a type of recycling, since the replacement parts give old cars new life.

She also expects that once she retires, her replacement will know more about the manufacturing end of the business “instead of just numbers,” but she knows that the company will survive this change just as it survived other management changes.

“Elder has been around a long time, and I think it’s going to be around a lot longer, and I can come back and visit here any time I want to.”

After all her years at the company, she is most proud of the fact that “the owners trust me. I’m just a down-home girl – I’m just me,” she said. “They’ve given me so much love and respect.”

Published in the July 2014 Edition of American Recycler News