By Alan H. Elder, Chairman/CEO - Vandor Coporation
So, what does it mean to observe an anniversary? We think about good memories, gratitude, and friendship. Let me explain each and why they are especially relevant to a business such as Vandor.
The origins of Vandor go way back to the depression in the 1930’s. Bruce Elder learned about casket making while a child riding along with his Hoosier-born dad Vance Elder, helping to deliver caskets in Detroit for the Detroit Casket Company. Bruce could help his dad after school because this was Vance’s second part-time job of the day (there were few full-time job opportunities available to an autoworker during the Great Depression). Bruce developed an entrepreneurial temperament at an early age.
Many years later, after the Bruce Casket Company was created in Michigan, Bruce was drafted into the Korean War for 2 years, so Bruce’s mother Doris picked up managing the office and casket production, and Vance returned to delivering caskets after his regular job at Ford Motor Company. Vance and Doris continued working with their son Bruce for their remaining working lives. And it is through Vance’s second job that Bruce came to know his future wife Suzanne, as she is the child and grandchild of funeral directors.
By 1972, Bruce and Suzanne and Doris and Vance had exited casket making, and in that year the Elder’s business was renamed Vandor having already expanded to Richmond, Indiana in 1968. The name Vandor honors Bruce’s parents Vance and Doris Elder --- “Van” for Vance and “Dor” for Doris. When Vandor started, the company focused on producing patented, fast-installing, high-quality casket interiors for other casket companies. Tens of millions of casket interiors later, the Vandor casket interior innovations have saved much money for casket makers, funeral directors and therefore families. Today, nearly every North American casket makes use of one or more of Vandor’s inventions.
In 1979, Vandor began making electrical connectors in Michigan and, after many improvements and inventions, became a world leader in this business. What was once a division of Vandor is today a part of Molex Electronics. This early Vandor work has given the world a much better electrical connector that continues to improve quality and save money for many industries, especially car making.
In the early 1980s, Vandor developed the Elderlite Corrugated Fiberboard Casket, marketed as a highquality, inexpensive casket. Vandor sold the Elderlite casket brand to Elder Davis, Inc. who expanded the brand focus on cremation products and in time earned the trust of nearly every American funeral director. Elder Davis is now a part of one of Vandor’s biggest customers named Matthews International. The Elderlite casket – the cardboard casket – is now a worldwide phenomenon that can be found not only in North America but also on all other continents (except Antarctica), with many millions buried or cremated. Vandor would eventually return to cardboard casket making in 2004 with Starmark brand patented designs that increasingly help funeral services succeed in both burial and cremation while reducing costs to families. Vandor 50th Anniversary Party Speech – Alan H. Elder September 17, 2022 Page 2 of 3
Also in the 1980s, due to a desire to improve the packaging for its electrical connectors, Vandor developed a line of corrugated fiberboard reels. Vandor later added a number of patented Enviromoldbrand plastic reels, serving the electrical connector, wire, cable and other continuously-wound product industries. Known as the Reel Options brand today, Vandor’s reels have saved the world much money and also reduced the use of virgin materials, as almost all Vandor reels have always been made of recycled materials.
In the 1990s, Vandor experimented with new plastics injection molding ideas. Among Vandor’s plastics parts is a temporary funerary urn, often given to families who are not yet prepared to purchase a permanent ash urn. And Vandor’s multi-shot plastics injection molding business today makes tens of millions of car parts a year for many car companies, in partnership with a specialized chemical company with whom Vandor has done business since 1974.
And there is so much more to the history, too much to list it all here.
All this history - the people, innovations, experience and hard work - have led Vandor to where it is today. Vandor employs more than 200 team members working together to create products that serve funeral professionals, as well as many products in the automotive, communications, construction, and consumer product industries.
Good memories are based on gratitude. Many of us remember that Bruce Elder wore an “Attitude” pin and that on the back of his business card was written “It’s your attitude, not your intelligence, that determines your success.” An affirmative attitude is an important part of Vandor’s culture, shared by Vandor’s past and current leaders. Part of a great attitude is having, and expressing, gratitude for others in our lives.
Naming and expressing gratitude to each current team member one by one, however much we wish to do so, would mean hearing me talk much too long. That is, unless you wish for me to do so?...Right. Nonetheless, it is a pleasure to remember and name and share gratitude for the past leadership of Gerald Davis and the late Mark Elder. So too that of other retired Vandor team members, some of whom worked at Vandor for many decades, including Bitha Isaacs, Bill Barth, Nadine LaFuze, Steve Woedl, Alice Hahn, Maria Meyer, Todd Elder, Pam Hughes, Gary Cox, Jim Shawhan, Leland Ozbun, Mike Berner, Suzy O’Donnell, Phil Carroll, Nancy Hines, Bill Smith, and Jack Elder. I know I am not including all recently-retired team members and am likely forgetting some long-retired team members, all of whose names would be a further joy to shout out, given time. It was the affirmative attitudes of these retired team members that made it possible to develop so many new customers, products and services and to set the stage for the nearly 60 patents issued so far, with many more forthcoming. This teamwork and culture of affirmative attitude have created so many good jobs and, in ways we can hardly imagine, gently improved the world for others.
I’d like to come back to the word Attitude for a moment. What are the ideas that make for an affirmative attitude? In their highest and most spiritual sense, they are:
1. That like a gardener, we can plant the seeds, yet we must know that all good - including patents and sales - comes from God, and we humans are only instruments.
2. That like a good musician, we must let the creativity, inspiration and talent we have from God shine forth.
3. That we are to do no evil. Only by getting evil out of the way can goodwill flow to all team members, customers and vendors.
4. That we are to do all business honestly, justly and faithfully. We are to do our best to act with good judgment and common sense, even while trusting in Divine Providence.
5. That we are to plan for the future as to what must be done for team members, customers and vendors, yet never worry about the future. In other words, do our best always and trust Divine Providence, especially when life goes differently from our plans. This includes, for instance, not being depressed in misfortunes nor full of pride in success.
6. Lastly, it is never about the money, rather it is about the good work to be done. We are to love transacting business as the job and the work, and we are to treat money as a necessary tool to do the job and the work.
In short, the gratitude we feel towards our colleagues at Vandor, our customers and suppliers, comes from a broader affirmative attitude that enables us to show appreciation and to return kindness towards those around us.
Memories and gratitude carry the potential for friendship. It is good to share memories and gratitude at work. And in our memory-building and expressions of gratitude, we build lasting friendships. In each mutual friendship where thoughtfulness and kindness are present, we can glimpse and feel a bit of heaven.
This glimpse and feeling of a bit of heaven can extend to our work and relationships in large and small teams, such as sales and marketing of Reel Options and L&L Products, or of Funeral Products, Starmark, and Starmark Local. I include teams in production, operations, customer service, HR, accounting and IT and numerous others. Of course, teams are made up of individuals, and each member of the broader Vandor team is essential. If any team member struggles, we all feel it and want to help.
Vandor has built great memories for me, my family, and the families of so many good people that have made this company what it is today. The attitude that my father Bruce brought to his work in Vandor inspires all of us to strive to treat our colleagues and neighbors well. The friendships we have made and the new ones ahead help make our daily work enjoyable and worth doing.
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