ICFA to honor Denver retailer and O.W. Lee founders for lifetime achievement
Casual Living Staff -- Casual Living, July 14, 2008
Joe Primock, former owner of Denver-based Broadway Furniture, and O.W. Lee founders Bob and Beverly Lee will receive Lifetime Achievement Awards at the 2008 Apollo Awards banquet Sept. 17 during the International Casual Furniture & Accessories Market in Chicago.
Presented by the International Casual Furnishings Association, the prestigious award honors individuals who have made exemplary contributions to the casual furniture industry and to their communities.
After Primock served on two destroyers in the Western Pacific from 1954-1956, he returned home to his family’s business, Broadway Furniture, which was at that time a furniture, appliance and carpeting store. He worked in the warehouse and made deliveries before moving to the sales floor. He served as a buyer, held various management positions and eventually assumed part ownership in 1970. Ten years later, he became the sole owner as his father and cousin retired. In the early 1990s, he dropped appliances, carpeting and narrowed the furniture lineup to focus on casual furniture, dinettes and barstools.
Primock retired in 2006 to devote more time to the five women in his life: his wife, Colleen; daughters Beth and Michelle, and granddaughters Taylor and Jordan.
O.W. Lee was founded in 1947 by Bob Lee’s father, Oddist Winfred Lee. O.W. was a welder who made gates, railings and custom furniture. If the items required upholstery, his wife, Gerda, sewed the cushions. In 1954, Bob Brown and Hugh Jordan, who had teamed up to form Brown Jordan at about the same time Lee started his company, became part owners in O.W. Lee Inc. Bob entered the business at age 14, working after school to file castings, cut steel bar and fetch kapok – the fluffy byproduct of kapok tree seed pods – which was the filling of choice for outdoor cushions at that time.
Beverly, likewise, grew up in a family business. Her father and grandfather founded Blanchard Company, one of the first importers of Christmas ornaments from Germany. “I grew up in the back of our old Ford, waiting for my dad to make his sales calls,” she recalled. “(I) wrote my first order for $1,000 at the San Francisco Gift Show when I was 12 and, at the ripe old age of 16, became my dad’s bookkeeper.”
Beverly was 15 years old when she met Bob, then 18 and driving a lavender 1957 Chevy that had “Come Go With Me” painted on the side. “I did, and the rest is history,” Beverly said.
On their first date, Beverly recalls that Bob took her to see the wrought iron dinettes in the window at Barker Brothers Furniture Store. “He pointed out that these were made by his family’s company,” she said. “Although I was duly impressed … I did think it was a rather weird place to take a girl.” They eloped a year and a half later.
Beverly eventually joined Bob in running the Ontario, Calif.-based business by answering phones, paying bills, keeping the books and handling credit and collections. All three of the couple’s children, Terri, Brian and Jeanine, grew up taking vacations in the back of the delivery truck. “The plan was to deliver the furniture first, then go camping,” Beverly said.
All three children worked part-time in the family business through their high school years, and Terri Lee Rogers and Brian continue with the business today. A grandson, Paul, became the fourth generation to contribute to the business, having recently created some product designs the company has implemented.
The Lees bought out partners Bob Brown and Hugh Jordan in the early ‘70s, and O.W. retired in 1977. Bob retired in the late 1990s, and Beverly shortly thereafter. Both spend spare time with their grandchildren, and Beverly serves on the board of the LeRoy Haynes Center, a non-profit organization in LaVerne, Calif., that caters to the needs of special children, including maintaining a school for autistic children and a group home for children unable to stay in their own homes.