Culligan celebrates 75 years in Seymour

The services offered by Culligan Water Conditioning of Seymour have changed somewhat over the years.

Employees have tried various things to improve the business, including building a bottled water production facility on North Chestnut Street in 2013.

Plus, the products have improved greatly with technology and continue to do so.

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At the core of it all is service, and that is what employees have tried to concentrate on, said manager Kevin Beavers.

“Culligan is unique even in the water industry,” he said. “Many companies have strong regional presence, but Culligan is about the only company with a worldwide coverage with dealers in all states and factories in Belgium, Italy and France. I think service is the biggest factor. I see many companies that have excellent sales organizations, but when their product gets to field, there is no service, and it just dies out.”

The Seymour business has long thrived on its service, and as it celebrates 75 years, Beavers looks for that to continue.

“It will take good people to continue on, and I think if you ask any business owner, that is the scarcest commodity of all,” he said. “It takes money, but you also have to have someone interested in learning about your business.”

In 1945, Wes Dixon had just received the Culligan franchise for Seymour and was looking for help getting started when he ran into Bernard “Bun” Bruce.

Bruce and his wife, Eve, had returned to the city to visit his parents, Claude “Pappy” and Maggie Bruce. They had been living in Texas and Michigan working for Dow Chemical for war production.

Rex Breeden had just gotten discharged from the U.S. Navy and was headed home to Vincennes through Seymour and got together with the Bruces and Dixon to help with the startup.

Shortly thereafter, the Bruces and Breeden bought out Dixon.

“The franchise included Columbus at the time, and in order to serve both markets better, Rex took Columbus and Bun took Seymour, and each started building their business,” Beavers said.

Breeden sold his franchise in 1956 to Hank Rickie and started a real estate business in Columbus, Breeden and Associates. Rickie ran the business until his retirement in 1998 and died in 2009.

The original Culligan office in Seymour was in the back of Gebhardt’s tire shop at the corner of Chestnut and Bruce streets. The current location at 1263 W. Tipton St. was built in 1950, and Beavers did an addition and remodel in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

The Bruces continued to build their business, and Beavers’ father, Richard, started working there in 1962.

“Dad wore all the hats as you usually do in small business — route man, service and installation and finally management and ownership,” Kevin said.

In the early days, there were no automatic water softeners, just exchange cylinders, Kevin said.

As modern homes progressed with more water-using appliances, automatic units quickly developed.

“To help supplement their income, the Bruces began home delivery of bottled gas. As it was delivered in much the same manner as the exchange water softeners, it fit in really well,” Kevin said.

In the 1960s, they started a franchise for Silgas in Seymour. Once it got to be a pretty good sized business, the Bruces sold it back to Silgas, which then built the office next door to Culligan on Tipton Street.

“I remember as a small child my dad working (for Culligan) all day and then hauling LP gas for Silgas until midnight during the winter months,” Kevin said.

Bernard’s parents helped with the business until their passing in the early 1970s. Eve Bruce died in 1993, and her husband died in 1997.

The Bruces’ son, Curt, who lives in California, recently published a book of letters written by his father and best friend at the time, Charley Crecelius.

“The letters really bring out the character of Bun and by themselves don’t really mean much unless you knew Bun or Charley,” Kevin said. “They both loved the outdoors, which drew them together. Charley’s dad was the game warden here, and I assume that is how they met. Charley joined the Army Air Corps during the war, and he lost a brother shot down over the Mediterranean.”

The book covers several years of correspondence until Crecelius and his crew were killed in a training accident over Oklahoma on April 27, 1951.

“CBS had filmed a story on Charley and his crew for the Edward R. Murrow show, and it aired the same afternoon Charley and his crew were killed,” Kevin said. “If you Google ‘A tragic coincidence’ on YouTube, there is a very interesting video telling the story of the accident. The Crecelius family paid a heavy price for our freedoms.”

The brothers are buried together at Riverview Cemetery in Seymour just down from the Bruces and Bernard’s parents.

Kevin started at Culligan full time in 1985 and became the dealer in 1995. His father died in 2006, and his mother died in January of this year.

“Between Bun and Dad and myself, we had 131 years’ experience,” Kevin said.

Before Kevin worked full time at Culligan, he spent summers mowing the grass and mopping the floors.

“I started out running routes and doing deionizer regeneration,” he said. “Dad insisted, rightly so, that you can’t run a small business and not be able to do any job there, so I have done all the jobs at one time or another, some more successfully than others, I’m sure.”

His role now is management, and he does most of the commercial and industrial sales, although he said he does any job required if a co-worker is out.

“I like meeting our customers and seeing what they do for a living and helping them solve problems,” Kevin said. “It is amazing the ways there are to make a living, and I have met many interesting people over the years.”

There are eight other employees at the Seymour business. Kevin’s sister, Karen Taskey, is the office manager along with longtime employee Rhonda Pfaffenberger and Rachelle Hensley. Christina Greer is the plant manager, Matt Pumphrey does service and installation, Dan Shuey works in commercial service, Brandon Bondowski is the route manager and Skilaire Shuey works in bottled water.

Jim Guffey recently retired after 36 years of service.

For residential service, the business covers Jackson, Jennings, Jefferson, Washington and Scott counties.

It also covers the entire United States for commercial industrial water treatment.

“We have built equipment skids for the University of Idaho, sent equipment to Iraq as a subcontractor to Kellogg Brown and Root for water purification for the troops there, we have a Department of Defense contract at Crane, done water purification for the border station at Trail Canada and sent product to Guam and Chile and about everywhere in between,” Kevin said.

“I like the variety of the challenges and opportunities we have,” he said. “It’s not like a work-a-day factory job. We get lots of variety.”

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Culligan Water Conditioning of Seymour is at 1263 W. Tipton St., Seymour.

Hours of operation are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays. Appointment hours are 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. weekdays and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays.

For information, call 812-552-0013, email [email protected] or visit