Thomasville retirees compile archives
Thomas Russell -- Furniture Today, August 19, 2013
THOMASVILLE, N.C. - A group of retired Thomasville Furniture executives is pulling together a piece of Thomasville history in hopes of preserving memories of the company for future generations.
Dave Ogren, a former v ice president of marketing for case goods, and Ryan Tessau, a recently retired longtime Thomasville executive, have been compiling archives for several months. Items range from old catalogs and photos of company picnics to newsletters and articles about the company and its civic involvement.
Ogren, who worked for the company from 1969 to 1982, first thought about piecing together the company's history earlier this year when he drove past the headquarters building here, which company parent Furniture Brands International has up for sale.
"I saw the "for sale" sign and it brought a tear to my eye," Ogren said. "This was a landmark company in the industry, and I just couldn't see letting all of this (historic information) go in the trash can."
Furniture Brands is moving the offices of Thomasville and sister company Drexel Heritage to a High Point building that houses offices and showrooms for sister companies Henredon and Maitland-Smith. The company also is housing some administrative offices, including that of newly named President Kathy Veltri, in its St. Louis headquarters.
Thomasville Furniture, originally called Thomasville Chair Co., has been based in the community since the early 1900s. It operated manufacturing plants there that provided hundreds of jobs.
In 1922, Thomasville constructed a giant wooden replica of an armchair that stood in the city's downtown. A newer concrete version made in the early 50s has since replaced the original.
This monument has led Thomasville to be referred to as Chair City, a moniker that highlights its rich furniture manufacturing heritage.
On a recent June afternoon, Ogren and Tessau were joined on the lower floors of the headquarters building by Thomasville retirees John Sullivan and Vickie Holder.
Together they went through boxes of materials, separating items by subject or theme. One long table held historical information, including old catalogs and product photos, while another held information related to the furniture industry including various markets. Another area held information on the company's community involvement.
Ogren said the whole project could take a couple of months, but it'll be impossible to keep everything they find.
"If it is something that is irrelevant to the company, we are throwing it out. You could have six truckloads if you aren't careful," he said.
He said he isn't exactly sure where all the collected material will end up. Some could go to the town library while other material could go to the city or the Thomasville chamber of Commerce.
When Furniture Brands officials learned of the goal of preserving Thomasville's history, they were supportive, Ogren said.
"Furniture Brands is supporting the efforts of these retired employees by giving the historic materials to the community for preservation," said Lisa Hanly, Furniture Brands vice president of corporate communications. "We recognize the contributions that Thomasville Furniture has made to the city of Thomasville and the surrounding community ... and Furniture Brands wants to insure that the legacy of this great furniture company is preserved for the community."
The information being collected traces the company's history from its early years under the leadership of the Finch family and its acquisition by Armstrong World Inds. in the late 60s to the sales of the company to Interco in 1995. Interco later became Furniture Brands International.
Items uncovered so far range from photos of the company basketball team in the mid-1930s to holiday cards sent to employees. One of these cards, a 1945 Thanksgiving greeting from then president Doak Finch, gives thanks for the end of World War II and a message honoring fallen soldiers.
The search also has yielded photos of the company's products through the years.
"At one point they were building over a million chairs a year. Not only have they been around, but they did innovative things over the years that were industry firsts," Ogren said, noting that he believes the company was the first major furniture company to have a national sales force. "And the things they did in merchandising also were very innovative."
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