Effingham Daily News
Associates and family members of the late Chuck Stevens are remembering him as an honest, personable man who built a global manufacturing business from modest beginnings.
"He always had time for people," said longtime Stevens Industries employee Bill Buenker. "He'd always ask about your family and was even helpful to me after I retired. I will remember him as a good friend above all else."
Stevens, who died Tuesday at age 78, began building cabinets for homes in 1956 out of a two-car garage in Teutopolis. By the time he retired in 1998, the company was engaged in building both commercial cabinetry and original equipment that would be sold to other cabinet manufacturers. What began as a one-man operation grew into a company that employed more than 500 people.
Buenker, who spent 47 years at Stevens Industries before retiring as a customer service representative, said Stevens was a master at providing solutions for his customers.
"Chuck was real innovative," he said. "We always had the newest machinery. Sometimes we bought it and other times we created our own."
When Buenker started working for Stevens as a Teutopolis High School senior in 1962, Stevens and a small crew were building cabinets for homes with a 100-mile radius of Teutopolis. One of the first projects young Buenker was involved in was construction of the new plant on Main Street in Teutopolis. That building is now occupied by ARC-Community Support Systems.
After building a series of additions to the block building on Main Street, Stevens began branching out into commercial cabinetry - and original equipment that other manufacturers would use in their work. Longtime employee Gary Wente remembered when the transition began.
"I remember the day Chuck sat down with us and said we were either going to sink and swim," Wente said.
Soon thereafter, Stevens moved his operation from what is now the ARC building into a much larger plant directly west of the old plant. After several additions, the company is still there today.
Wente added Stevens was more than just a boss to his longtime associates.
"He treated everybody like family, especially us old guys who got started with him," he said.
Daughter Laura Stevens Hardiek said her dad was a devoted boss.
"He had an incredible love for the people who worked for him," Hardiek said. "He just thought the people who worked for him were it."
Even though Stevens spent more than four decades building a global business enterprise, Hardiek said he still made plenty of time for his family.
"He shared his love for nature with us," Hardiek said.
In retirement, Stevens had the time to become even more engaged with his family, which included wife Martha, who he married in 1957; seven children; 20 grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.
"He would make wooden furniture for the kids and wooden toys for the grandkids," Hardiek said.
Hardiek said her dad never really gave up woodworking.
"He had a large woodworking facility behind the house, where he would make furniture and cabinets," she said.
Bill Grimes can be reached at 217-347-7151, ext. 132, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.