When Jerry Heck first walked through the doors at Draper, the Beatles were still together. Neil Armstrong had not yet stepped onto the moon. Gas was 35 cents per gallon. And the number of Draper employees was still in the double digits. These days, Draper has more than 600 employees … and Jerry has a conference room named for him and his parents, long-time Draper employees Bill and Martha.
It was 1968 and Jerry was just a junior in high school. Both of his parents were employed at Draper.
“My Dad had worked here for a couple years, and he asked (company president) Luther Pidgeon if he would be hiring any summer help and Luther said yes,” Jerry recalls. “When my Dad came home for lunch he told me what Luther had said. So I hopped on my bike and came into Draper, talked to Luther and he put me to work for that summer.”
At the time, Jerry was only 16 years old. After that casual conversation, he started out unwinding and then rewinding spring rollers to Draper specifications. It was a job he could do despite being too young to operate machinery.
Heck came on board full time after high school, and after an experimental move to Florida—“I had a wild hair,” he explains—he spent the next several years working wherever he was needed.
“I cut shade fabric (with scissors), tested shades, built SnugFolds and PakFolds, slatted and stapled fabric to wood rollers, worked in the mill, and worked in the metal shop.” He moved on to projection screens, building and testing electric screens and working in paint room. Jerry eventually became an assistant department head, to Clarence (Dude) Goodwin in small screens and Charles Painter in Large manuals, and was in charge of the paint room where his Dad was then working. He was finally moved to a full time supervisor position in the shade plant, which is his current job. That sounds like a lot of changes!
“Jerry’s responsibilities have grown dramatically over the last several years,” points out Production Manager Ed Smith. “In 1997 Jerry had approximately 10 employees working for him in the Shade Plant. Today Jerry has 40 employees manufacturing shades on a daily basis. I am very proud of Jerry and his accomplishments.”
“Jerry has been and still is a very dedicated employee with high character for many years,” agrees Draper’s other Production Manager, Dick Estelle. “He has adjusted well to all of the changes (proving you can teach an old dog new tricks).”
“Obviously I have seen many changes, going from 40 employees to over 600,” Jerry recalls. “One important thing that has remained consistent … (president) John Pidgeon and (vice president) Mike Broome. They have always put the people first, whether it be an employee or a customer. Draper is a very unique place to work and I am proud to say I work here.”
“Jerry’s been a solid performer for Draper for almost as long as John and I have been here (which makes him pretty old),” says vice president of manufacturing Mike Broome. “He reminds me a bit of a good sports official. When they are doing their job well, you hardly notice them. In a way that’s Jerry. He does a very good job, but does it so smoothly that it’s easy for the rest of us not to notice.”
Jerry says one of his favorite things about working at Draper is the way the company takes care of its employees … and there is such a direct relationship between company ownership and workers.
“There aren’t many companies where you can walk into the owner’s office and just strike up a normal conversation like you can here at Draper,” he points out. “John and Mike (and those before them) have always been fair and friendly with everyone who crosses their path. They have done tremendous things in the community, the state and even around the world.”
With 45 years of tenure, and at the age of 65, Jerry has no plans to slow down. He says he’s “clueless” about when he might retire, or even what he might do in retirement. So he’ll keep doing what he always has. Keeping the shades moving and making sure Draper customers are getting the best product possible.