Jerald Helgeson Sr., former president of injection molding firm Engineered Custom Plastics, died Oct. 2 at age 88.
Helgeson ran Easley, S.C.-based ECP for 22 years and also served in the U.S. Army for 50 years, attaining the rank of brigadier general. Helgeson saw action during the Korean War, earning the Korean Service Medal with three Bronze Service Stars.
A native of South Dakota, Helgeson grew up there and in Joliet, Ill. While in South Dakota, Helgeson helped his grandfather build a gunsmith shop. That experience helped him when he worked as an engineer at National Lock in Rockford, Ill., before entering the plastics field.
Helgeson got his start in plastics in 1966 with the plastics division of Singer-Anderson in Anderson, S.C. In 1970, he founded ECP along with Bob Stewart. At its peak, the firm employed 800, ran 130 injection molding machines and had annual sales of $70 million.
In 1992, Helgeson sold ECP to British firm McKechnie plc. He later served as president of thermoset molder T&Z Technologies in Liberty, S.C., a business owned by industry veteran Larry Nunnery, from 2002-05.
Nunnery described Helgeson as "one of the lions of the plastics industry in the '70s, '80s and '90s." As a sales rep at GE Plastics in the early '70s, Nunnery sold resin to Helgeson and ECP.
Nunnery credited Helgeson with being an early injection molder of polycarbonate, adding that ECP could make tooling that could handle high temperatures.
"Jerry was a real groundbreaker in our industry," Nunnery said by phone. "He was a leader and a really good guy."
Helgeson received the Order of the Palmetto, South Carolina's highest civilian honor, for his contributions to the state. He was preceded in death by his wife, Kaye, and is survived by his sons, Jerry Jr. and Bruce, two grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
Both Jerry Helgeson Jr. and Bruce Helgeson worked in plastics as well. Jerry Helgeson Jr. operates Engineered Creative Plastics, a consulting firm based in Nederland, Colo. Bruce Helgeson owned and operated an assembly plant that worked with ECP and other firms.
Bruce Helgeson said that his father "had a practical sense and a confidence that installed in those around him that they could do whatever they put their mind to."
"Never would he accept that he couldn't do something," Bruce Helgeson wrote.
In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to the SC National Guard Foundation, P.O. Box 7606, Columbia, SC 29206. Checks can be made payable to SCNGF for the Helgeson Scholarship.