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Plymate family celebrating 90 years in business

Four generations of Plymates and two disastrous fires have created one healthy company based firmly in Shelbyville.

Todd Plymate, current president of Plymate Incorporated, calls the fires “God’s way of doing long range planning for us.”

Following a remodeling of its downtown production facility in 1967, Plymate Cleaners suffered the first of two devastating fires. That forced the local business to its current location on the city’s southwest side.

In 1988, a second major fire drastically altered the business focus of the company to what it is today – workplace apparel and floor mat programs.

Originally a dry cleaners, the company grew into a commercial laundry business, added linen and uniform business, purchased and developed coin-operated laundries and then saw the opportunity to expand into industrial business at a time when Shelbyville was landing foreign businesses.

Glenn Plymate would not recognize the business he founded today, 90 years later, run by his grandson, Todd, and granddaughter, Terri Plymate Warnecke. But he would be proud of the family business that they have cultivated and the customer service they provide in a business where independents battle for market share.

Nor would he envision a third- and fourth-generation of Plymates, Terri’s son, Ben Warnecke, has been with the company over three years now, leading the charge.

All three never considered working for their grandfather’s business. Todd Plymate landed at General Mills in Minneapolis working in mergers and acquisitions. Terri Warnecke spent 10 years teaching in the Indianapolis Public Schools system. And Ben Warnecke moved to Colorado for school and, eventually, work.

“I had no intention of coming back here,” quipped Todd. “I went to graduate school and was working for General Mills. I thought I was hot stuff and the last thing I thought I would be doing was working here. And that’s 40 years ago.”

James T. Plymate, son of Glenn Plymate, suffered a disabling back injury in 1978 and that brought Todd home. It also brought his youngest sister, Tracy Plymate Holt, into the business.

“People of my generation and older probably still think of Plymate as a dry cleaner,” explained Todd. “We don’t do any dry cleaning. We got rid of the dry cleaning. We did linens for the hospital. We had coin-operated laundrymats.

“One thing that was apparent to me was we can’t be good at all of these. So we focused on the industrial side of the business, uniforms and floor mat rental.”

Plymate didn’t go all in on its current focus, though, until that second fire in 1988.

Todd was playing tennis one weeknight when his wife pulled up to tell him there was a fire at the business. He could see the flames and smoke as the car pulled off Interstate 74.

“It was gut wrenching,” said Todd. “We had worked so hard. We were rolling on the food and beverage side and a little bit on the industrial side. I remember I had reached a time where we had this thing working the right way and then, ‘Boom.’ I literally cried.”

No employees were hurt but they were left in a perilous situation. As it turns out, it was those employees that brought renewed faith in the business.

“It was amazing what happened,” said Todd. “We had a lot of single parents working for us. The plant was not functional … it wasn’t for three months. So we went to Indianapolis and leased facilities there. We used them at night. We bussed our co-workers up to the facilities. We had these single parents and nobody quit during the process.

“That spoke volumes to me. I had a lot of respect for the co-workers before, but these guys really cared. It was clear that I was going to come back. I wouldn’t have been shocked if half our work force left with what we were asking them to do. It was like an epiphany. We’ve got something special going on here.”

With the family in crisis, Terri joined in to bring all three of Glenn’s grandchildren into the company fold. That lasted for eight years before Tracy retired, leaving Todd and Terri in charge – and that synergy has been dynamic.

“We always got along well,” said Todd of his relationship with Terri, three years his younger. “We’ve had a remarkable partnership and relationship here for over 30 years. We compliment one another. Terri has a way of nudging me when I need to be nudged. It’s good for the CEO to have somebody he can trust that can help you get back on course if you are headed in the wrong way.”

Still, the decision to sell off the linen business after the second fire was risky. The company needed the capital but it was giving up its strongest production division.

“It was a tough decision because we were giving up volume,” said Todd. “We actually had, prior to the second fire, we had a really good reputation in Indianapolis in food and beverage. We did fine dining, tablecloths and napkins. We weren’t the market share leader but we were the quality operator.

“When we had the fire, it was all hands on deck and what could we do to survive? So we sold the hospitality linen business because we didn’t think we could keep the patient alive if we didn’t. We amputated the arm and used the money we received to grow our industrial business.”

Plymate started creating custom floor mats to work with stock mats and found it could provide workplace apparel that fit well with its customer service philosophy.

And that’s where Ben started in the business following a nearly two-year recruiting process.

“In roughly three years I’ve been focused on the service piece of our business,” he said. “It’s a great way to learn what we’re about, who our customers are and what their needs are.”

Ben worked for Enterprise, moved into data processing outside sales and then commercial real estate while in Colorado. He sees that work experience as critical training for what he has done and will be doing with Plymate for many more years.

“I had a little more time in the real world, post college, before entertaining the option and the opportunity to come back and work for the family business,” he explained. “I think that was helpful and beneficial for me. I focused on sales and service and I took some of those learnings and brought them back to Plymate. It’s helped me have an appreciation for what we need to be doing as an organization to provide exceptional service.”

Ben expects to transition into more of a production-based role with Plymate in 2020 as he continues to master Plymate’s business model.

Plymate recently celebrated with its co-workers the company’s 90th anniversary. Each employee received a $90 check to honor its history. There may be more celebrations throughout the year, according to Terri, who said the company will focus on promoting its 90-year tradition of servicing its customers.

“I feel like we have 85 co-workers and I think the vast majority feel very vested in the success of the company,” she said.

Plymate has survived because of its dedication to its employees and the ability to provide quality service and a quality product to its customers.

“It’s important that it says who we are,” said Todd of the anniversary. “We’ve been around 90 years, maybe two or three percent of businesses that started in the 1930s still exist. We didn’t survive by accident. It was doing the right thing, doing it with integrity, and doing it with the right people.”

Local students celebrate Catholic Schools Week

Nine students pondered the question at hand before writing down their answers Friday morning during the annual Brain Game finale at St. Joseph Catholic School.

The quiz competition capped off St. Joseph’s Catholic Schools Week celebration, which featured a different theme each day.

Friday was Staff Day, with everyone at the school wearing a St. Joseph T-shirt designed by a student.

The other themes were Community Day, Celebrating Your Students/Spirit Day, Celebrating Your Nation Day and Vocations/Occupations Day.

“The kids really see the appreciation in being able to attend Catholic school,” principal Jim Tush said. “Lots of people don’t realize it’s a true gift that we’re allowed to do this. In other countries (they) don’t have freedom of religion, don’t have Catholic school. This country, we’re able to do that. So it gives us a chance to thank our parents, to thank the partitioners, to thank the community for allowing us to have a Catholic school and get a religious education during the school day.”

Tush decided to switch the format to make it more all-inclusive this year. Previously, competitors pressed a buzzer and verbally provided their answer. This year, each student wrote their answer down.

“I wanted everyone to be able to participate and when you’ve got just three kids up there hitting buzzers, a lot of them are too nervous to do that,” Tush said. “And I didn’t want that to hold them back. Some people are good at public speaking and some people are good at other things, and just because a kid might be nervous to speak publicly, they should still be allowed to participate in the academic meet. So I wanted to take that element away.”

The team of Charlie Fisher, Cooper Thoman, Joseph Solorzano and Elijah Knight won the competition, correctly answering all 15 questions.

The runner-up team of Hallie Chaney, Jack VanWye, Ella Beck, Everett Stegemiller and Jemma Salter scored 11.

Tush announced at the end of the competition that the fifth-grade competitors were invited to a competition in Oldenburg. Fourth-grade students will not be participating because the competition is limited to fifth- and sixth-graders, he said.

Lisher suspended in employee theft case

The final rulings from a surprising case of forgery, theft and fraud at a local law firm are complete.

In October of 2019, Heather Brant was found guilty of theft, identity deception and fraud while working as a legal secretary for Shelbyville attorney James Lisher.

And on Jan. 23, Lisher was suspended 60 days for professional misconduct for failing to supervise Brant, who worked for Lisher from 2001 until 2018.

Lisher will begin serving his suspension March 5. Lisher cannot accept any new legal matters during his suspension. At the end of the 60 days, he will automatically be reinstated.

The Indiana State Police opened an investigation into Brant on Aug. 15, 2018, when a victim accused her of producing fraudulent court documents.

The investigation led to findings that Brant created false court documents and forged signatures of judges, court clerks and prosecutors.

A warrant was issued for her arrest and she surrendered on Sept. 25, 2018.

On Oct. 16, 2019, Brant pleaded guilty to three Level 5 felonies – theft, identity deception and fraud. She was ordered to serve 2,190 days but 2,189 days were suspended.

Brant also was ordered to pay the following fines and costs: $185 in court costs, $1 fine, and $178,387.16 in restitutions – $74,790.96 payable directly to Lisher with the remaining $105,596.20 paid to Bank of America.

Brant was prosecuted by Richard D. Culver of Hancock County. The judge in the case, Peter D. Nugent, was from Johnson County.

Brant has a compliance hearing set for July 16, 2020, at 8:30 a.m. at Johnson County Superior Court No. 2.

While Lisher was not involved in Brant’s illegal doings, his misconduct was found with regard to Indiana Professional Conduct Rules 1.15(a): Failing to maintain and preserve complete records of client trust account funds; and 5.3(B): Failing to make reasonable efforts to ensure that the conduct of a nonlawyer employee over whom the lawyer had direct supervisory authority is compatible with the professional obligations of the lawyer.

In addition, it was found Lisher violated Indiana Admission and Discipline Rules 23(29)(a)(3): Failing to keep records detailing the nominal amount of attorney funds held in a trust account, showing the amount and dates of attorney funds disbursed or deposited, and a running balance of the amount of attorney funds held in the trust account; 23(29)(a)(7): Failing to keep reconciliation reports for a trust account; 23(29)(c)(7): Failing to reconcile internal trust account records with periodic bank account statements.

Super Southwestern Pre-Game

Dear Readers,

I was planning on inviting all of you to our official Team Schwinn Super Bowl pre-game party. However, when addressing the envelopes (in cursive to honor our State Senator Jean Leising), I got a cramp in my writing hand.

Our social chairman emeritus, Susie Veerkamp, came to the rescue. Susie not only addressed the invites, but she volunteered to have the pre-game party at her house. Unfortunately, the fire marshal ruled that all of you could not safely fit into her rumpus room. There ended up only being room for Susie’s friends from her alma mater, Southwestern.

All of the old Southwestern crowd was invited including Mayor Tom DeBaun, Dennis Hill, Jeff Linder, and Van McQueen. The guest list also included Kim and Andy Coley, along with current art teacher, Tori Nash and her husband, Perry. The current principal of Southwestern High School and soon to be new superintendent, Curt Chase and his wife, Lindsay, were invited along with the principal of the elementary school, Josh Edwards, and his wife, Betsy.

I thought all of you would enjoy being a “fly on the wall” at this little soiree. What follows are snippets of conversation overheard at the pre-game party. No attempt was made to identify the speakers. I thought it would be more fun for you to just imagine who said what. Enjoy.

(In order to feel like you are actually at the party, pass the newspaper around and have family members take turns reading the following snippets out loud.)

Did you hear that a recent poll found that 70 percent of Americans approved of the airstrike that killed Iranian general Qassem Soleimani? When asked who should be the next target, 85 percent of Americans agreed that it should be Rachel from card services.

I wonder what happened to the ostrich farm near Acton?

Did you see where the Shelby County Jail received a $15,000 grant to install a kiosk at the jail? Low risk offenders will be able to use the kiosk to check themselves into jail. It would have been a lot cheaper to just hang the key on a peg next to the cell. That’s how Otis Campbell checked himself into jail every week on “The Andy Griffith Show.”

Did you know that a puppy grows up to be a dog, but a pony never grows up to be a horse?

I think the secret ingredient in this dip is Spam.

Does it seem to you that actress Patricia Arquette has become stuck in the role of some very annoying character she was playing?

Just what is Meltzer’s obsession with “The Helbing?”

Did agriculture teacher Howard Lea really have a severed human hand in a jar or are Southwestern old timers just pulling my leg? No leg pulling there. Mr. Lea did and I knew the owner of the hand. George Tinke lost his hand in a farming accident. He gave the hand to Mr. Lea to use as a visual aid in his Ag class. For years Mr. Lea had the hand in a jar of formaldehyde. He would pass it around the class to emphasize the importance of safety on the farm.

Better take it easy on the arugula, you know it’s like catnip for women.

I still remember the post-prom party at Kathrine Glass’ house.

Did you ever smoke those seed pods from a Catalpa tree when you were a kid?

Yeah, my boss is this old guy, thinks he is the smartest guy in the room. The other day, after he put a number in his cell phone, I let him sit there with the phone up to his ear for a couple of minutes before telling him he needed to push the call button.

I used it myself and it is a great alternative to peat moss.

To be Frank, I’d have to change my name.

I always just refer to David Hasselhoff as “The Hoff.” It is way less hassle.

Have you tasted the eggnog? It reminds me of the milk plus they used to serve at the Korova Milk Bar.

I told you Susie would have fondue.

Did you hear that just like Jake and Elwood, Norman and Todd Winkler are getting their band back together?

I met my husband at a karaoke bar. He thought I was blinking and sending him a message in Morse code. He still believes it, but really I just had something in my eye.

I don’t know why you always rave about these. You realize it is just cocktail weenies, barbecue sauce and grape jelly.