Daily Messenger, January 16, 2002, By Julie Sherwood, Messenger Post Staff
See the companion article: A Look Inside Titanic
MIDDLESEX – Hospitals with damaged X-rays call. The Detroit Public Library, with 70,000 records it needed to save, called. And even researchers who salvaged documents, ticket stubs, and photos from the RMS Titanic sought out this Rushville company.
Rushville Workers Helped Restore Artifacts From the Famous Ship
Business is booming at Document Reprocessors on Water Street in the Yates County town of Rushville at a time when Xerox plants have closed in Canandaigua and Farmington and Ames is shutting down its Canandaigua store. Now, the founder of this company wants to open another plant in Rushville where its workforce, now at 100, will use a vacuum freeze-drying technique to save water and smoke-damaged books, films, and other documents.
Started by a native Californian about 25 years ago, the industry has restored everything from rare books and family photos to X-rays and medical records to artifacts from the bottom of the sea. “We are the Cadillac of the industry,” said operations manager Alberta Keppen.
Eric Lundquist, who founded Document Reprocessors, invented and patented the method workers use to restore materials that include rare books, blueprints, maps, microfilm, computer discs, and magnetic media. In recent years, projects have included the restoration of 800,000 X-rays from the Emory Medical Clinic in Atlanta; 70,000 rare books and films from the Detroit Public Library, and 40,000 architectural drawings from Marshall Fields Department Store in Chicago.
Keppen said the company owns the largest freeze-drying chambers in the world, which measure 45 feet long by 8 feet around. Each holds 700 boxes, or 840 cubic feet, of materials at one time. Two of the chambers are located at the Rushville plant, one at a satellite factory in San Francisco. Freeze drying retards mold and mildew growth.
Document Disaster Teams
Workers stabilize, organize, label, clean, repack and return documents to their locations in original condition. A core crew specializes in moving materials from disasters, said Keppen. “It takes incredible teamwork,” she said, adding that calls require immediate action. Materials must be put in cold storage as soon as possible, she said, to prevent irreversible damage.
When the company rescued records from the New Jersey police department in 1999 during Hurricane Floyd, about 10 people went for 10 days. They saw homeless families, destroyed homes, and dead animals. “You know you have to keep going,” she said. “These are people’s lives you are saving, not just pieces of paper.”
“It can be a (adrenaline) rush,” said employee Jamie BeaWon, who has done everything from data entry to packing and indexing. He loves the work because “you are all focused on one thing. Your goals are the same.”
Dave Gray, a plant supervisor who lives in Rushville, said he likes “the challenge of keeping everything in order and getting it back to the way it’s supposed to be.”
Michelle Wieezorek, director of Health Information Management at Saint Vincent’s Hospital in Erie, Pa., said she thinks Document Reprocessors saved lives year when it restored several thousand X-rays that were waterlogged from a sprinkler malfunction.
“There were four inches of water on the floor and we stood there and said, ‘What do we do?’” she said. Radiologists needed the images to make a diagnosis.
David Poremba, manager of the Burton historical collection of the Detroit Public Library, said a heavy rainstorm in 2000 threatened to destroy thousands of books, original documents, and photographs in their collection.
“We didn’t lose a thing,” he said. The crew arrived on the Monday after the flood and returned the material a few months later in perfect order, he said.
The Burton collection is one of the most valuable in the nation, he added, containing genealogies of world-wide scope, federal Census records, passenger lists of ships and photographs, and statistics of local industries dating from 1700 to the present.
Freeze Drying and Straightening Books
Lundquist, an engineer, is a native Californian with homes in San Francisco and Rushville, Keppen said. He got the brainstorm for the operation as an insurance adjuster after seeing documents in a dumpster.
Eventually, he patented his method of freeze-drying and straightening books. He started his business in San Francisco and, 23 years ago, an employee convinced him to open a plant in Middlesex.
Now, Lundquist, who is currently in New Zealand, owns several area businesses, Keppen said, such as HVAC, a heating and cooling operation in Rushville, and The Machine Shop in Geneva.
According to the company’s general manager and chief financial officer, Quintin Schwartz, the company will soon open a second local plant in a four-acre building in Rushville, the site of the former Comstock canning factory on Railroad Avenue.
“A duplication of Document Reprocessors is our goal,” he said.
Eventually, the company will employ about 300 workers, he added, at locations in Rushville and an office in Rochester.
Schwartz is a Middlesex native who left the area to study engineering and settled back home after a friend from a local church tipped him off in 1991 that the company was seeking employees.
“We are saving people's lives.” He noted projects like the 20,000 mammogram charts they are currently restoring.
RMS Titanic Document Salvage
Sheila Rennoldson, an employee who has handled everything from Titanic artifacts to biographies from President Bill Clinton’s personal collection, said, “All the jobs are memorable.”
“It is exciting … you are always ready to tackle something new,” she added.
Don Rohring, a mechanic who maintains the freeze-drying chambers, agrees. “Everybody has an important job,” he said.