The Community Post Salutes Family-Owned Businesses

Staff Writer

Sitting at his office desk in his company’s 22,000-square foot Southgate facility, 89-year-old Lee Westerheide wore a gingham shirt with the sleeves rolled up, revealing strong arms and hands that have been working in the tooling industry for three quarters of a century. As Progress Tool & Stamping employees carried food and drinks out to the front lawn for his company’s 50th birthday party, Westerheide took a few minutes to look back at Progress Tool & Stamping’s progress over the past five decades.

“It didn’t seem that long, but evidently it is,” Westerheide said. “It’s been fun.”

At 89 and still in his office most every work day, Westerheide has seen it all in the tool and die industry.

“I’m the only one here that’s been here 50 years,” Westerheide said. “It’s a lonely club. I’ll probably be thinking of getting out one of these days. My health is good, but I’m kind of scared to quit.  This has been good for me and my health, I think. I don’t work nearly as much as I once did. But I like to come in every day. I enjoy it.”

It’s that independent, pioneering spirit that we at the Community Post celebrate in this year’s Family-Owned Business section inserted in this week’s newspaper.

It’s the spirit that allowed Westerheide’s business to make it through the decades right here in Minster.

Westerheide described the business’ humble beginnings in his garage in Minster.  After leaving Monarch in Dayton and starting his own tool and die business in the Gem City, a car accident left him in the hospital for several months with a hip injury.

“I decided traveling back and forth from Dayton every day wasn’t going to get it done,” Westerheide said. “So at that time a designer I had worked with  and I  decided to go out on our own and the only place we had to do it was in my garage. So we bought about four pieces of used machinery and went to work. We hired a local kid who wanted to learn the trade and four months from then in November of 1968 we built a building on Cleveland Street we moved into.”

Odds are you own a product that was produced using tooling produced by Progress. The company, which makes the tooling that ends up producing everything from washing machine, refrigerator, aeronautics, auto and medical parts, began its life in Westerheide’s garage back in 1968. Just a couple small machines and the knowhow of a man who started apprenticing in his teens quickly turned into a shop on Cleveland Street which eventually became the shop that sits on State Route 66 south of town today.

Westerheide, a Marine, a toolmaker and a man who has seen Minster’s growth up close for almost 90 years now, stood with his sons Keith and Brian near the door of the business for a picture, photographic proff of the family nature of the business he’s built alongside them.

“They probably won’t tell you it’s been nice working for me,” Westerheide said with a grin. “But sometimes you’ve got to be a little hard-nosed. In a business like this you’ve got to be. You can’t be taken advantage of.”

“To be a good tool and die maker, you’ve got to spend probably about eight years before you know what you really should know,” Westerheide. “The computer age really changed it. I’m not a big computer person, but luckily my two boys are, so we survive with what we’ve got. We’ve done quite well over the years.”