By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium
ST. JOSEPH — Merlin Hanson looked out at the more than 100 Hanson Mold employees that had gathered for cake and smiled.
The former president and CEO of Hanson Group was at the St. Joseph Township plant on Thursday to commemorate Hanson Mold’s 50 years in business. In the process of doing so, Hanson was met with both familiar and new faces.
“People who I had a chance to talk to in the mold division, I tell them this company is one of the top five mold builders in the nation,” Hanson said behind a podium that was stationed at the front of the shop floor. “Not many can hold a candle to you all.”
Thursday gave employees a chance to look back on the history of the tool and die maker.
Hanson Mold specializes in the production and prototype tooling for a variety of parts and industries.
However, Hanson Mold officially began in 1966 as a mold-making division of another company. Its base of operation was in the old Featherbone building in Three Oaks.
Merlin Hanson had joined Weldon in 1960, a small shop in Three Oaks at the time, and later became a partner there a few years later.
“A lot of the retirees here today started in that Featherbone factory,” said Dan Mitchell, president of Hanson Mold.
The company grew quickly and in the early 1970s moved to a new building in Bridgman. In the 1980s, Hanson would go on to sell Weldun. However, he retained its mold-making operation by moving it to St. Joseph Township, and he renamed it Hanson Mold.
Hanson chairs the Hanson Group, which is the umbrella corporation for Hanson Logistics, Hanson Mold and Eagle Technologies. Hanson Mold is the oldest of the three companies.
After a light lunch with employees, Hanson was presented a plaque. Mitchell said they began planning a celebration for the milestone in July.
“It means a lot seeing everyone out here today,” Mitchell said. “We have 95 people working here today, and its nice to have Merlin here because he’s what made this happen.”
One of the familiar faces on the dais was former Hanson Mold President Gene Stemm.
Cutting into the green, yellow and white cake with a large “50” plastered upon it, Stemm recalled moving into the main plant along Hollywood Road in St. Joseph Township. It was a reunion of sorts for Stemm, who noted how different the technology has become in mold making.
“It’s surprising to see all the high-tech changes from when we started. It’s funny to think about all the ways these young people will never have to mold,” Stemm said. “This is a good group here, but what I miss the most is Merlin.”