Making glass was “in his blood”. Those words described my dad, Rudy Wencek, as working with glass intrigued him. That passion is the basis for my Father’s Day tribute to Dad and Variety Glass in Cambridge, Ohio. Dreams do come true.
At the age of twelve, Rudy quit school and went to work as a “carrying-in boy” at Cambridge Glass Company. As the years passed, Rudy performed a variety of jobs there from pressing to the skilled art of blowing delicate pieces. The only thing he knew well centered around making glass, while his wife, Kate, raised chickens on the farm.
Rudy never even considered doing anything else until the day in 1959 when the Cambridge Glass plant closed – this time for good. What would he do now?
As luck would have it, Rudy was good friends with Tom Mosser, another glassmaker whose family had a hand in operating Cambridge Glass. Rudy and Tom purchased some of the original Cambridge Glass molds for use in producing laboratory and pharmaceutical glass for doctors and science labs, plus a variety of other items.
Where should they start the business? How about in Kate’s chicken house near Indian Camp. While Kate didn’t mind giving up her chicken house, two things worried her.
First, the large propane tank needed to fire the furnace could explode. Second, taking out a loan frightened her as she watched every penny. But Rudy told her, “It takes money to make money.” Therefore, late in 1959, Variety Glass got its start – in our former chicken house.
Rudy and Tom worked long hours on their new business. Tom enjoyed making business connections to purchase supplies and generate sales. Rudy got to follow his love of being in charge of making the glass products, always working closely with the other employees, nearly all being former Cambridge Glass craftsmen.
The following year, a late night explosion caused a fire that stopped their dream. But Rudy and Tom were not giving up. They contacted former Cambridge Glass president, Mary Martha Mitchell, asking for her leadership expertise. Between the three partners, they discovered the empty street car barn on Second Street and began refurbishing it to meet their needs.
With the added room for growth, items were added to their production list with glass products being sent worldwide. Surprising though it may seem, some of their laboratory glass was used by NASA and the Atomic Research Center in Los Alamos.
But fate seemed to delay the three of them again, as once more fire caused extensive damage to Variety Glass in 1966. Mary Martha Mitchell kept the company going from her kitchen table office by notifying customers of the circumstances and encouraging them to wait until production started once again.
Today Variety Glass is still in operation on Second Street although none of the three originators are around to oversee its production.
Due to health problems, Rudy found it necessary to retire from Variety Glass in 1966, but he never lost his passion for making glass. He told his grandsons how proud it made him feel to see sand and a few special ingredients turn into beautiful glass objects, thus Rudy’s long-ago CB handle of “Sandman”. The sparkle in his eyes when he talked about making glass reflected his passion.
Dad’s cheerful, caring attitude provided a life-long example to follow. He was the best dad imaginable!