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General Films' Weikert nears 100; he, firm going strong

By: Jim Johnson

September 17, 2013

COVINGTON, OHIO — Roy Weikert has made some concessions to Father Time.

The majority owner of General Films Inc. in this rural southwest Ohio town no longer walks four miles daily.

Weikert, who can vividly remember the horse-and-buggy days of his youth, only walks a couple of miles each day due to failing eyesight.

Still not bad for someone who is about to turn 100.

"It takes me about an hour and a quarter to walk two miles. I don't walk as fast as I used to. Another reason why I cut back from four miles to two miles a day," he admitted just last week during an interview at General Films.

While Weikert retired from the day-to-day operations way back in 1980, he still keeps up with the family business during weekly calls with nephew Tim Weikert, who has worked at General Films since he was a teen and has run the place for the past couple of decades as president.

Weikert, who got his start in business during the Great Depression, speaks fondly of the old days but holds out future hope for the industry that became his life's work.

Just a month away from his centennial birthday Oct. 22, Weikert said he is in good health, taking only some over-the-counter pain medication for a balky shoulder and nitroglycerin for a heart condition.

And he thinks about what lies ahead for plastics, and himself.

"I look forward to the industry for new developments and new applications, some people who can see new areas, new industries that our industry can serve," he said.

"It doesn't have to be like it is today. It will change. Somebody is going to do it. Somebody is going to do it," he repeated. "I think there's a reason for optimism and growth in the industry."

Optimism, Tim Weikert said, is what separates his uncle from the crowd. That and a healthy lifestyle.

No smoking. No drinking. Not even coffee.

"The word for Roy is inspirational," Tim Weikert said. "It is that inherent sense of optimism that he has about life; a general sense of optimism that we can make tomorrow a better day than today. It's inspirational."

At 99 years and 11 months, Weikert said he feels comfortable and was willing to share the key to living a long life:

"Keep breathing. It's helpful."

This from a man who bungee jumped in New Zealand just weeks before turning 80 and hiked 13 miles into the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California to go trout fishing with a buddy when he was well into his 80s, his nephew said.

Weikert got his start in the business back in 1938 when he created and began selling liners, made of Pliofilm, aimed at keeping the inside of hats clean from the pomade men were putting in their hair at the time. Wei¬kert was a Brilliantine man, but he still didn't like messing up a new hat he had just bought.

One hat shop he called on with his liners instead asked if he could develop a hat cover that would keep them clean while they were stacked together.

Using the same Pliofilm, which had been developed by Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., Weikert built his own machine that would create such a cover. His first $6 sale was for 100 covers to a little shop in Dayton, Ohio. And Weikert remembers the exact date of the sale nearly 75 years later: Dec. 28, 1938.

"Oh boy, that was the greatest thing that ever happened in my life up until that time," he said.

But business only got better as word spread and hat manufacturers started using his covers, instead of tissue paper, to ship their products. "It just mushroomed. It went fast," he said.

Weikert spent virtually nothing to create the homemade machine that launched his career and a business than now employs 70 in Covington, where the company has operated since 1947.

For many of those years, Roy worked with his brother and Tim's father, Wayne, in the family business. "It was a godsend," Weikert remembered about working with his brother, who retired as president in the late 1980s and passed away five years ago. "I didn't need to worry about production. He was just very faithful and devoted and capable."

Hopscotching through his life's history, Roy Weikert said he's made mistakes over the years, which have held many highs and lows. He journeyed back to the early days when asked about his proudest moment.

"I have to say I'm most proud of that very first machine I made by hand. I had 25 cents invested in that machine. That was a doll. I really cherished that more than anything else. That got me in business," the company's founder said.

Nestled in one section of the company is a 1949 version of a hat cover machine that still operates maybe four or five days a month when economics are right.

Tim Weikert called it more of a Smithsonian corner than a business line. But two employees one day last week were working on the machine, as hat covers still are sold overseas when exchange rates favors production.

General Films has become about much more than hat covers over the years, creating a niche for itself by providing custom work for many clients.

"For the size of our business, we're very well-diversified," Tim Weikert said, as the company's clients include the fluid dairy, cheese, poultry, ground beef and automotive markets.

About 75 percent of the company's business involves customer orders. The company uses polyethylene, nylon and ethylene vinyl alcohol to create its film products.

The elder Weikert had some advice for those interested in striking out on their own.

"I had a strong desire to go into business for myself. I think that's important. You must have a strong desire, and then keep your eyes open. Things don't have to be like they are today," he said.

Weikert, a short time later, was off to the retirement home where he has lived for the past decade. It was midafternoon and maybe there still was time to get in a couple of miles before dinner.