MHS grads answer call to help New York
Company works short-handed to fill quadrupled orders for NYPDIn solidarity with New York rescue workers, many celebrities from the New York Yankees to Mayor Giuliani to the President of Italy have been sporting NYPD caps. But how many knew those caps were made by three Madras High School graduates?
Brothers J.R. and Eric Brooks, and their friend Kelly Simmelink developed similar interests while in school together in Madras.
"We were all graphic art students of Phil Comingore, and I even worked at The Pioneer for a while," Kelly said.
Following high school, the trio all attended Mt. Hood Community College, where Kelly was in the graphic arts program. J.R. graduated from MHS in 1986, Kelly in 1987, and Eric attended MHS until his sophomore year. The Brooks boys' dad, Bruce, had operated a CPA office in Madras for several years before they moved away.
After obtaining a graphic arts degree at MHCC, Kelly worked at an embroidery company in McMinnville for six years. Meanwhile, the Brooks boys and their dad, started a business of their own in 1989 called Collegiate U.S.A. While the actual business was located in the industrial park in Clackamas, Eric and J.R. traveled to Taiwan and subcontracted with a factory to help produce hats for college campuses.
Kelly joined the operation in 1992 and said the business really took off after they began to focus more on making embroidered patches and hats for municipalities instead of collegiate items. But by then, their "Collegiate" business name had become well-known and it was too late to change it.
They began making patches for the New York Police Department in 1994, and in 1999 won the official NYPD hat contract through a competitive bidding process.
Why would agencies in New York send clear out to Oregon to have a company make their hats?
"There are very few major players in the hat and embroidery business," Kelly explained. "There are only four or five competitive bidders on major volume orders nationwide who have the power to produce and competitive prices."
He said their products are mainly advertised on the internet, by catalog, direct mail and especially word-of-mouth from clients recommending them to others.
"I joke that we have more customers in Connecticut than we have in Oregon," he said.
Today Collegiate U.S.A. has 14 employees and a customer base of 8,000, which includes the NYPD, New York State Corrections, New York Metropolitan Ambulance, and others all across the U.S. Besides official uniform patches, the company embroiders logos on baseball caps, T-shirts, and other apparel for public and private employees.
"We even do the hats for the Jefferson County fire district," he pointed out.
But events following the Sept. 11 terrorist attack of the World Trade Center in New York caused the Clackamas embroidery company to shift into high gear to keep up with orders.
The NYPD's normal order of 10,000 to 15,000 caps a year jumped to a request for 45,000 caps and 40,000 patches because of all the extra personnel working at the Ground Zero recovery site.
Their biggest challenge, however, came that same day when the National Guard activated reserves to help patrol the nation's airports. Company operations manager J.R. was called away to work 60-hour weeks in security at the Portland Air Base, in addition to the 30 hours a week he continues to work at the business.
Meanwhile, production manager Todd Ray reported for full-time duty at Camp Rilea on the Oregon coast. That left just Kelly to run the production end of the operation. On top of that, two women who operate embroidering machines were away on maternity leave, so the business partners' wives filled in to keep the NYPD hats and patches coming.
The hours are long and tiring, but considering the circumstances, Kelly said, "you step up to the plate and do it."
The company was recently featured in the Oregonian and on TV channels 12, 2, 8, and 6 because of its extraordinary effort to help New York by meeting quadrupled orders with a short staff.
"We have a very strong connection with New York and developed close relationships with (those customers)," Kelly said, adding, "It saddens me to say that we unfortunately are in the process of producing memorial emblems and garments for some of our fallen friends."
Despite the increased workload, Collegiate U.S.A. has found time for one more project -- a fund-raiser for the victims in New York.
Through the sales of patches which show an embroidered American flag with the words "United We Stand," as well as flag lapel pins and some flag-embroidered apparel, the company has raised over $5,000 so far. "And we haven't even publicized it," Kelly said, noting they will probably continue the campaign through November.
"We'll give the money back to our customers in New York by donating it through the 9-11 Disaster Relief Fund (for firefighters), NYC Office of Emergency Management (for police), Red Cross and Metro Ambulance," Kelly indicated.