August 1940: The people of Akron, Ohio heralded the dedication of their 35,600 seat Rubber Bowl and the running of the seventh International Soap Box Derby. But for a four-member family named Jones, August 8th presented the most pivotal event of their personal history as its 46-year-old father took himself and a dollar bill to the Summit County Auditor's Office to purchase a vendor's license.
Thus Akron Bearing Company was born. The father was Ralph D. Jones.
At that time Jones was on the threshold of becoming Akron's ex-branch manager for the Ahlberg Bearing Company, a national manufacturer and distributor of bearings. By the late 1930's, Ahlberg was floundering amidst the economic woes of the Depression. One of its solutions was to close its branch offices. Ralph and his wife Fanny faced this threat by taking the risk of opening their own business. Loans from two friends and credit from Ahlberg that enabled a 4% loan from the Firestone Bank made it possible for them to set their daughters to the task of addressing post cards…post cards that announced the Ahlberg Bearing Company was now the Akron Bearing Company.
With a rented typewriter, a scarred wooden desk, an upright telephone, rent of $10 a month, and a freight bill of $6.62 for miscellaneous bearings purchased for $39.47, Akron Bearing was open for business. Shortly after getting on its feet, the company was dealt a crucial blow when Ralph Jones suffered a serious heart attack. Housewife Fanny kept the doors open with the help of taxi cab drivers for transportation (she did not drive), customers who came behind the counter to help with stock and interchanges (she knew nothing about bearings), and neighbors to help tend her stricken husband. Akron Bearing became a successful “Mom and Pop” operation being able to pay back their debt in five years. They came to be known for their personal service, even opening for customer's emergency night calls.
In 1945, daughter Mary married Akronite Lawrence Kalgreen, a young Air Force pilot who had spent eight months in Germany as a POW. Larry soon became Akron Bearing's first employee. In 1954, daughter Pat married Cleveland attorney Jack Fickes who twice had interrupted his education to serve in the Army. He too joined the firm.
The Company incorporated in 1957, and in 1963 ownership of the company passed on to the Kalgreen and Fickes families, and the business continued to flourish. Larry donned the title of President/Treasurer and Jack the title of Vice President/Secretary. But then, as now, titles meant little. All shared whatever work presented itself, from sales to stocking shelves to swabbing floors to heating a pot of soup for a quick lunch. Also maintained was the tradition of serving each customer, big or small, as a friend. One quip that became a truism is, “We don't sell the customer what he asks for but what he needs.”
The company grew and so did the number of employees. As each of the Kalgreen and Fickes family children became old enough, they were encouraged to do more than just help count year-end inventory or romp about the building while there with Dad on a night call. They were brought in to experience the business founded by their grandparents.
In 1980 Jack Fickes passed away, but one of his children still serves as a member of the Akron Bearing work force. His son, Mike Fickes (Executive Vice President), functions as the head of Purchasing for the company. With Larry Kalgreen's passing in 2008, four of his five children and his son-in-law help staff the business which today supports eighteen families. His son, Pete Kalgreen, now serves as President. Matt (Vice President) works in sales, while Sue and Kathie serve in the accounting departments. Kathie's husband, Allen (Vice President and Treasurer), is the network administrator for the company while occasionally helping inside sales.
Today the family can boast of having its 4th generation choose Akron Bearing as their career. Jessica Cook (Allen and Kathie's daughter) joined the accounting department in 2001. Libby Fickes (Mike's daughter) integrated into the sales work force in 2004. Steve Kalgreen (Matt's son) chose to work in sales at Akron Bearing in 2007, and DJ (Dan) Kalgreen (also Matt's son) decided to become a full time salesman in 2010.
Despite the inevitable changes in over a half century of time brings (seventy-two years and counting), the people who are Akron Bearing Company continue to demonstrate the spirit of Ralph and Fanny Jones: personal and expert service marked by respect for customer, vendor, and employee. These are the values of a family business born of adversity, built by courage, and supported by valued friends, family and customers.