Behind his desk at Encore Plastics Corp.'s Sandusky, Ohio, headquarters, President Craig Rathbun keeps a battered leather briefcase. It belonged to his father, John Rathbun, the firm's chairman, who died March 1 of a heart attack at age 71.
I'm afraid to open it, Craig Rathbun said of the case during an Aug. 28 plant tour. But it makes me feel better having it there.
John Rathbun's 50-year career in plastics launched after he spent four years in the U.S. Air Force. In 1959, he began a three-year stint as a general laborer at roofing company Johns Manville Inc.'s fiberglass insulation factory in Waterville, Ohio. The elder Rathbun was a technical service engineer at Dow Chemical Co. in Findlay, Ohio, from 1962-67, when he became production manager at Foster Grant Co.'s thermoforming plant in Sandusky.
John Wilson, Encore's vice president of manufacturing and John Rathbun's longtime friend and business partner met the elder Rathbun in 1969, when Wilson was a high school senior working part-time at Foster Grant, bucketing plastic from three gaylords into one.
In a recent Encore newsletter, Wilson who referred to Rathbun as simply, a genius remembered a conversation the two had about Wilson's appearance roughly a year after he finished high school, when Wilson had moved up to running the thermoformer at Foster Grant:
I had long hair, a beard and was now riding a motorcycle. John said, 'Wilson, you are looking kind of scruffy. I want you to shave, get a haircut and get rid of that motorcycle. You are going to go places in life, but you're not going to get there looking the way you do and riding that bike!'
I figured John [had] not steered me [in] the wrong direction yet. I [kept] moving up the ladder and making more money, so what the heck the beard came off I went right to the barber and got a short haircut. I also sold my bike that same week, Wilson wrote.
In 1973, the elder Rathbun left Foster Grant to become plant manager at injection molder Romac Container Corp. in Avon Lake, Ohio, where he made Wilson head of printing.
In 1977, Rathbun mortgaged his house and, with Wilson as his first employee, formed Venture Packaging Inc. in Monroeville, Ohio, injection molding food and dairy containers. In 1997, he sold the business to Berry Plastics Corp. for $50 million.
In 1987, John Rathbun became one of the founders of paint sundry supplier Encore Industries Inc. in Coraopolis, Pa., and in 1993 the same year he received a regional Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award in packaging made sons Craig and Tim, his daughter, Jodi, and Wilson partners in the company.
The partners moved Encore's headquarters to Sandusky and started Encore Plastics to have control of manufacturing their sundries. Now, Tim Rathbun is Encore's CEO and Jodi (Rathbun) Conley is its secretary-treasurer.
John Rathbun was married to his wife, Diane, for 43 years before she died in 2003.
John Rathbun's daily absence is still deeply felt at Encore.
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