Industry and community were his labor of love

Jeff Jeffers loved to talk about his business and his community, both of which were his life.

On three occasions he took me on tours of his buildings, the fruits of his labor, and in doing so gave me a glimpse into his business acumen, his love of his community and his enormous heart.

It was obvious from the start he was proud of the work he had done, optimistic about the decisions he’d made and what was ahead.

And the commentary was priceless, enthralling to someone with little business sense, even less knowledge of Richmond’s industrial history and a burgeoning sense of community.

The tour started with a walk through his primary building, sidestepping caskets in assembly line motion, past molds, brackets, handles and all the other paraphernalia that goes into the construction process.

Amidst the smell of paint and glue, with metals grinding and caskets rolling in all states of completion, Jeff was the perfect tour guide.

His commentary was straight forward with no boast of moneys earned and spent nor his place as the city’s industrial leader. There was, however, reference with more than a hint of pride, to his donations to the city’s growth, whether in industry or nonprofit projects like the Boys & Girls Club or the city’s fireworks celebrations.

But there was no evidence that the telling was for bragging sake. It was only incidental, mixed in with the description of processes involved in acquisitions, to the building of caskets and building of a community, to adjustments he’s made to an ever-changing business climate and the happiness he derived from what he had built.

It was his kingdom and he was sovereign.

He talked nonstop, punctuating triumphs and challenges with that funny high-pitched giggle that accentuated the difficulty, unpredictability, even absurdity, of his bold ongoing march to success.

He knew every employee, greeted them by name and they all responded, happy, not surprised, to see him in their midst.

Next, we jumped into his golf cart and toured a second then third building, soaring past endless lines of hanging metal parts awaiting paint, past mounds of auto and truck parts and metal trays in various states of preparation and transport to keep other industry moving.

He was in his element and it was obvious he loved what he had quietly built. He told stories with relish of buildings he purchased, retrofitted, of previous owners, his original plans and how those plans changed. He never dwelt on the negative, never disparaged civic leaders, business competitors and associates and always demonstrated real affection for the people who worked for him past and present.

He was one of a kind and, when the tour ended, I felt privileged to get this brief but fascinating glimpse into a life of struggle and accomplishment. Now, it is hard to believe he is gone and unnerving to think of the void left in this community by his passing.

He was a tribute to our past, an age when manufacturing was king, and a constant reminder of the importance of dedication to craft and community and to the belief that all things are possible.

Though difficult to envision a future without him, Jeff Jeffers’ memory will live on through his commitment, accomplishment and example.

3 thoughts on “Industry and community were his labor of love”

  1. Very interesting, but if you want the commentary to be understood by people who are not lifelong residents of Richmond, it would be helpful to say in the first or 2nd paragraph, perhaps just as a clause or a parenthetical explanation i.e., his business (Jeff was founder and owner of the largest casket production company in Eastern Indians)… somthing like that. I had to wait til the 5th paragraph, with the thing about sidestepping. Bill, I’m a retired Journalist too, and this is part of the training we got at IU back in ancient times.

    It was also not clear whether this was a tribute to someone who had retired, or whether it was a memorial tribute. Bill, it doesn’t hurt to be a little less vague, maybe just a reference to “our recent loss” or when Jeff passed away in October ,, or something.

    Perhaps your blog is mainly for Richmondites or ex-residents who would not need these clarifications. My family has deep roots in Richmond thru the Nicholsons (did you write about Ed?), and other relatives’ long association with Earlham, like the Millses, but I’m not that familiar with town details, so above information is appreciated. Blogs like this in every community are valuable and I hope you continue the good work.

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    1. Thanks Janet. Good points, but, yes, I’m writing (I believe) for a local audience who wouldn’t need much explanation, since those are the few who generally read my columns. But your points are well made and worth considering on my next outing!

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  2. Thank you much for such a wonderful article about my father. He would have been so touched that you remember him this way.

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