The chairman’s pajamas

Mark Green Special to the Democrat
Booneville Democrat

In the mid-1980s, I had the marketing job with the toy company that was located in Booneville. Its name had been Wolverine Toy when it was located in Pittsburgh because the founder had been a University of Michigan alumnus. The company had been purchased in 1968 by Spang & Co. of Butler, PA and had moved from their antiquated, multi-story facility in Pittsburgh to a new plant just outside Booneville.

During the time that I was with the company, Wolverine’s President retired, and the Chairman of the Board, Mr. Frank Rath, Sr., brought in his daughter, Vicky, from her job with Walt Disney to be the new President. Some of the first things she did were to move the company from metal toys into heavy-duty molded plastic toys, and to change the name of the company to Today’s Kids.

Mr. Rath was a remarkable businessman. If I remember correctly, he had been the youngest Chief Engineer in U. S. Steel history when he married Lillian Spang, the daughter of the founder of Spang & Co. He had been brought immediately into the family organization and quickly rose to the top of the company. He transformed it into a diversified conglomerate with enterprises ranging from department stores to bridge building.

On one occasion during those years, Vicky and I made a trip into the Northeast to gather reactions from buyers on the new toys we were considering. At the last minute she decided that we would swing by Butler on our way home so that she could visit her family and we could attend the annual stockholders meeting.

As things transpired, we stayed at the Rath home that night. Suffice it to say that I was somewhat out of my element there, both socially and economically.

However, I did manage to score some points with the matriarch of the family. Mrs. Rath was a lovely and gracious lady, but evidently her lack of culinary ability was somewhat of a standing joke in the household. That afternoon, she brought out a Tuna Helper casserole that she had made and asked if anybody wanted some for a snack. The family quickly declined, with sideways smiles and a few humorous comments.

However, my upbringing had been that you never insulted the cook by turning down what was offered, so I said that I would love to have a little of it. I think Mrs. Rath was somewhat surprised and gratified to have some enthusiasm about her cooking. (It really was fairly good.)

Because of our last-minute flight changes, the portion of my luggage that held my sleepwear did not make it to the Pittsburgh airport, so I was minus pajamas. Mr. Rath very kindly loaned me a pair of his.

During one of the Presidential campaigns, Vice President George Bush had made a swing through the Pittsburgh area, and had been scheduled to stay with the Raths, who were strong supporters of his and Mr. Reagan’s. It worked out that he did not stay with them, but they had gone to a lot of effort to prepare a bedroom especially for him. It was thereafter called The Bush Room by the family. That was the bedroom I slept in.

It is not often that a young man from South Logan County gets to sleep in pajamas supplied by the Chairman of the Board in a bedroom that had been designated for the Vice-President of the United States. Needless to say, I had a story to tell Mrs. Green and the kids when I got home from that trip.