Behind the Scenes: Companies at the Heart of Everyday Life
Founded in 1985 by Paul Klauber, Round Oak Woodworking specializes in liturgical furniture. The company's staff of three hand-makes pulpits, chairs, crosses, altars, and other church furnishings in a small shop in St. Louis. Round Oak frequently works with artist Martin Erspamer, a Benedictine monk from Indiana. The company paired up with Erspamer on a $75,000 project to renovate St. Patrick's in Billings, Montana, in 2000 and built a number of items for the church, including the altar, which is made of walnut and red oak.
Book of Gospels
Almost anything used in Mass -- candles, vestments, holy water sprinklers, chalices, and linens -- can be bought at Gerken's Religious Supplies, based in Denver. "We sell the holy hardware," says CEO Ray Gerken, whose father, Elmer, founded the company in 1953. Gerken's, which has 12 employees, more than $2 million in annual revenue, and some 2,000 clients -- including the CEO's home parish in Littleton, Colorado -- mails its 600-page catalog to every Catholic church in a 500-mile radius. St. Patrick's has been a customer for more than 40 years.
This organ from Rodgers Instruments looks and sounds like a classic pipe organ, but it's digital. The instrument, which cost $55,000, can produce 79 types of pipe organ sounds, using digital recordings of actual antique organs. Rodgers Jenkins and Fred Tinker, two electrical engineers, founded Rodgers Instruments, a Hillsboro, Oregon -- based company, in 1958. Today, the organs start at around $12,000 and can cost up to $1 million for custom-built versions with five keyboards. The company has annual revenue of about $30 million and 130 employees.
At Emil Frei Studio & Associates, a handful of artisans turn mouth-blown glass and metal oxides into religious art, using many of the techniques that German artist Emil Frei employed in 1898, when he started the St. Louis -- based company. "We are really metallurgists," says current owner Stephen Frei, Emil's great-grandson. The company's most famous design is the Space Window in Washington National Cathedral, which incorporates a lunar rock donated by the Apollo 11 crew. A few years ago, the company repaired these century-old windows and created a modern stained-glass design for the foyer that depicts the tree of life.