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Continuity of family ownership is a source of pride for many Iowa businesses. Farm families have their Century Farm and Heritage Farm designations for 100 and 150 years of direct family ownership. Other businesses often celebrate their silver and golden anniversaries.
It’s unusual, however, that operation of a local family small business can be handed down through five generations spanning 135 years.
Such was the case January 1 as Malcolm and Ginny Eighmy formally transferred ownership of Eighmy Monument Company to their daughter and son-in-law, Melissa and Eric Friedrich. Under the new owners, the company will now be called Eighmy Friedrich Monument Company.
The story began in 1884 when, at age 23, Theron “Dell” Eighmy, Sr. established Grant City Granite Works, and the Eighmy name has been associated with stone carving in this area ever since. Dell is perhaps best known for hand carving the ornate Civil War Memorial that still stands in the Grant City Cemetery. Using only a hammer and chisel, Eighmy shaped the monument from an 11’ x 3’ chunk of granite weighing over eight tons. The memorial was dedicated on Decoration Day 1896 before a crowd of over 6,000 people.
Dell’s artistry was handed down to his son Ed, who continued to operate Grant City Granite Works until it was sold in 1975.
Prior to that, however, in 1964 Theron’s grandson Melvis Eighmy and his wife Milly had already purchased the Mahan Granite Company in Mount Ayr and changed the name to Eighmy Monument Company, allowing for the continuance of the Eighmy family name in the stone carving business.
Melvis and Milly’s son Malcolm and his wife Ginny became the fourth generation when they took ownership in 1981.
Growing up around the family business, Melissa was no stranger to stone carving, but her husband Eric was a different story. Having worked with the Kum and Go corporation as a district supervisor for over 10 years, he found himself searching for other opportunities when the corporation asked him to relocate to other states.
Weighing their options, Melissa and Eric decided to move back to Mount Ayr in 2012 to raise their young family – daughters Tatum and Alba and son Morgan. As a certified registered nurse anesthetist, Melissa found employment with Ringgold County Hospital and other area hospitals, and in 2013, Eric joined Malcolm in the monument business as an apprentice.
“I remember thinking there’s no way you [Eric] could do this,” said Melissa. “How are you going to come in here… you just didn’t show any artistic side.”
Yet, over the next seven years, Malcolm credits Eric with modernizing Eighmy Monument, especially through computerization.
“Eric has taught me that there’s another artistry over there with the keyboard,” Malcolm said. “He spent hours and hours and hours doing the same thing I did back here by hand. He’s not comfortable at all doing it by hand, but he can sit there and do it and change it and … We’re putting out some awesome stuff.”
While computers now help with the creation of designs, the cuttings, etchings, shape carving, and sandblasting are still done by hand by Eric, Malcolm, and employee Lincoln Greene.
Perhaps more importantly, Eric said access to the Internet has allowed him to reach out to artists and suppliers in the carving industry around the world as well as to new customers via Facebook, the Eighmy Monument website, and email across the nation.
Taking ownership of the business at this time seemed to Melissa like a natural fit for Eric.
“You have your MBA and are very business oriented,” she said. “You have talked for years about starting a business and always brainstorming what can I do?”
“I’m looking forward to growing the business and offering jobs while maintaining the quality workmanship and personal service we’ve always had,” Eric said
Incidentally, just as their founder did over a century ago, Eighmy Monument Company was instrumental in the stonework at the veterans memorial that now stands on the northwest corner of the Ringgold County courthouse square.
Another link to five generations of rich tradition in the Eighmy family business.